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Medical Waste Regulations and How They Evolved

There are quite a few legal challenges to be aware of when transporting or processing medical waste.

Legislation requires that regulated medical waste is processed until it’s no longer infectious before being finally disposed of. Most of the regulations regarding medical waste are defined at state level, not federal. Even more confusing, the rules are usually drafted by several different agencies within that state. It’s important to find exactly how a particular state defines the term “medical waste” to ensure compliance.

To further complicate matters, if the patient’s identification details are found on the waste, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 also comes into play.

In the 80s there were a few incidents of medical waste washing up on East Coast beaches. This prompted Congress to enact the Medical Waste Tracking Act. This Act helped identify which types of waste needed to be regulated, established a tracking system and set management standards for things like waste separation and storage. It also set down requirements for record keeping and established penalties for non-compliance. The regulations thus created expired in 1999. However, the information from this time showed the EPA that medical waste is most dangerous when it’s first generated, and the danger wanes after that. This caused them to focus on it being more of an occupational hazard than a public or environmental one.

The Medical Waste Tracking Act brought our attention to the problem of medical waste and provided a model for what followed.