Managing Regulated Medical Waste
of Regulated Medical Waste
Most states have developed comprehensive regulations
regarding the on-site management of medical waste, although there are a few
exceptions (e.g., MS, NE, and WY). The following summarizes the key aspects
of these state rules.
rules vary on requirements for registration. Some states do not have any registration
process at all, while others require healthcare facilities to register (e.g.,
MI, SC) and in some states obtain a "generator identification number," which
is similar to a state RCRA hazardous waste ID number (e.g., RI,). In some cases,
states differentiate between large and small quantity medical waste generators,
where registration and other rules are less burdensome for the small facilities
(e.g., 50 lbs/mth. limit in NC and SC, 60 lbs/mth. limit in OK, 200 lbs/mth.
limit in CA and UT).
Some states require healthcare facilities to
prepare a plan that ensures proper management of regulated medical waste (e.g.,
CA, NC, SC, UT, and WV). In some cases, compliance with this requirement is
achieved by meeting planning requirements found in the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen
Waste Segregation. Segregating
regulated medical waste from general waste at its point of origin makes good
economic sense for any healthcare facility because of the high costs associated
with management and disposal of regulated medical waste vs. common office and
municipal trash. In some states, segregation at the point of origin is required
by law (e.g., MI, MT, and SC), in some other states, it is highly recommended
On-Site Transportation. Most
states do have specific rules that apply to transporting regulated medical
waste within a healthcare facility, although, in most states some general rules
such as packaging, would apply. One state with specific internal transport
rules is Rhode Island. In addition to packaging requirements, Rhode Island
regulations cover mechanical aspects and disinfection of wheeled carts used
for waste transport.
rules for packaging and labeling of regulated medical waste vary by state,
but in general, they are designed to safely contain the waste during storage
and transport and to alert employees and the public to the potential hazard.
Labeling is typically required prior to on-site storage or off-site transport.
Packaging requirements often include (check
with your state agency for the specific rules that apply in your state):
- Generators must place and maintain all sharps
in rigid, leak resistant, and puncture resistant containers which are secured
tightly to preclude loss of the contents and which are designed for the
safe containment of sharps; all other types of infectious waste must be
placed, stored, and maintained before and during transport in a rigid or
semi-rigid, leak proof container which is impervious to moisture.
- Containers must have sufficient strength
to prevent bursting and tearing during handling, storage, or transportation.
They must be sealed to prevent any discharge of the contents at any time
until the container enters the treatment system.
- Plastic bags used inside of containers must
typically be a red or orange color and have sufficient strength to prevent
- Infectious waste must be contained in disposable
or reusable containers that are appropriate for the type and quantity of
waste, must withstand handling, transfer, and transportation without impairing
the integrity of the container, must be closed tightly and securely, and
must be compatible with selected storage, transportation, and treatment
- Reusable containers are usually acceptable,
if they are disinfected after each use.
- Most states specify that medical waste containers
may not be compacted.
Typical labeling standards require that receptacles
containing infectious waste be clearly labeled with the biohazard symbol or
with the words "Infectious Waste". Some states require that labels
also include the name of the generation facility, contact information and the
destination facility (e.g., NC, WV).
regulated medical waste should be treated as soon as possible, some temporary
storage is inevitable. Some states have very specific guidelines regarding
storage areas and time limits. Most states do not require permits for waste
storage. The following are typical requirements for storage (not all rules
apply in every state):
- Regulated medical waste must be kept separate
from other wastes in an area that is designated and clearly labeled with
the universal warning sign or the word "biohazard."
- The storage area must be ventilated and
located to minimize exposure to the public and is accessible only to authorized
- In some states carpets or floor coverings with seems cannot be used in
storage areas (e.g., NY).
- Containers of regulated medical waste within
the storage area must be prominently marked with the universal warning
sign or the word "biohazard."
- Floor drains must discharge to an approved
sanitary sewer connection.
- Spill kits are required by some states (e.g.,
- There are often no maximum time limits for
storage of RMW. However, the waste must be maintained in a nonputrescent
state, using refrigeration, when necessary and vermin and insects must
be controlled. Where storage time limits exist, they are in the range of
7 days (NY) to 90 days (AZ).
On-Site Treatment. In
most states, regulated medical waste must be treated before it can be disposed
of. Such treatment can be performed on-site or at an approved facility. Regulated
medical waste treated on-site to render it non-infectious is usually no longer
considered infectious for handling and disposal purposes (e.g., CO, MT, NV,
SD) and in some cases, it may be mixed with and disposed of with ordinary waste
when certain rules are followed (e.g., MT). However, many states require that
treated waste remain segregated and often written notification must accompany
the treated waste to its disposal location (e.g., CO).
All states allow healthcare facilities to treat
regulated medical waste on-site when an approved method of treatment is used.
Some states require permits or operating plans (e.g., NY) for the treatment
units, while others only require air pollution permits for incineration units.
Approved methods usually include incineration, steam sterilization (autoclaving),
microwave sterilization, and chemical disinfection. Most states also have a
process for granting permission to use new or alternative methods of treatment.
This typically involves a petition process. Some states do not approve or recommend
any specific treatment methods, but leaves it up to the generator to determine
what is an appropriate and effective treatment method for their wastes (e.g.,
Liquids, including blood, but excluding chemical
wastes, may be discharged to the sewer in many states, although local sanitary
district approval is usually required (e.g., MO, MT, NC, OK, UT).
Training. Employees involved with the on-site management of regulated medical waste (i.e.,
packaging, labeling, storage, or treatment) typically must be trained in accordance with
the requirements of the OSHA Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens regulations (29
CFR 1910.1030). Some states have additional training requirements (e.g., MI).
Reporting and Tracking
Some states require that a tracking document
be prepared before regulated medical waste is shipped off-site and that the
document accompanies the waste to the treatment/disposal site in a manner similar
to a RCRA hazardous waste manifest (e.g., MO, NY, RI, SC, WV). Where used,
tracking documents are typically multi-copy forms where the generator, transporter,
and disposal site retain copies and the disposal site returns a final copy
to the generator once the waste is disposed of (e.g., MO).
In some states generators must maintain records
of the quantity of regulated medical waste generated, and the disposition of
those wastes (e.g., NY, NC). Also, some states require generators to submit
annual reports indicating the quantity of regulated medical waste and its disposition
(e.g., NY, WV).
In nearly all states, transporters of regulated
medical waste must have a medical waste transporter permit in order to pick-up,
transport, or deliver regulated medical waste. Small volumes of regulated medical
waste may be transported without a permit in some states.
Treatment and Disposal
In most states, regulated medical waste must
be treated to render it non-infectious before it can be disposed of. Such treatment
can be performed on-site or at a permitted treatment facility. Permitted facilities
have stringent standards that must be met.
Many states also have provisions that allow
larger healthcare facilities to accept regulated medical waste for processing
from smaller facilities (e.g., MO).
Some states allow the direct disposal by landfilling
of untreated medical waste (e.g., Co, NV), although in these cases, specific
rules must be followed (e.g., properly labeled and packaged infectious waste
may be disposed on in a permitted solid waste disposal facility without treatment
in Colorado) and the landfill must be approved for this kind of waste (e.g.,