Medical waste disposal is regulated by federal and state government. Here’s what happens in Alabama.
Medical waste or biohazardous wastes are more dangerous than household waste. Medical waste items contain bodily fluids, tissues, and sharps that possess pathogens that can cause disease. Regulations regarding medical waste disposal are in the hands of federal and state government, which help with the monitoring of medical waste.
On the federal level, we have the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The goals of RCRA are to protect the environment, conserve resources, and reduce the amount of waste being generated. RCRA gave us the first regulations for the management of hazardous waste, which included the identification of solid and hazardous wastes, standards for generators of hazardous waste, standards for transporters of hazardous waste, and standards for hazardous waste disposal facilities.
On the state level, each of the 50 states has its own set of rules and regulations. In Alabama, there is a 35-page document outlining its medical waste program, which is implemented and governed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Many of the rules are not different from the status quo; for example, packaging of medical waste is explicitly outlined, stating that outer layers “shall be packaged in containers which have either a red background color or utilize red lettering with contrasting background color and conspicuously labeled with either the words “Infectious” or “Medical Waste” or “Biohazardous” and/or contain the International Biological Hazard Symbol.”
As we’ve previously discussed, the reason you may find red bags more commonly is because red is often associated with danger. Healthcare staff must be able to quickly identify which container to put waste in, and red is a color that stands out. For Alabama, this is clearly a requirement.
Perhaps the most interesting regulation is the storage timeframe. According to Alabama law, storage of untreated medical waste is not to exceed “seven calendar days from the date initial storage begins unless waste is refrigerated at a temperature less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit” for those who generate less than 220 pounds of waste per month. This differs greatly from other states and areas, like San Francisco, which has 30-90 days depending on the storage temperature and volume of the waste, but for facilities with less than 20 pounds.
Other regulation highlights include:
- Surfaces: must be constructed of smooth, easily cleanable materials that are impervious to liquids.
- Reusable containers: must be decontaminated after each use with an approved treatment method.
- Single-use containers: must be burnable material for incineration
In conclusion, many types of facilities can generate medical waste: hospitals, clinics, medical offices, dental practices, laboratories, blood banks, veterinary hospitals, and medical research facilities. Medical Waste may be either non-infectious or infectious, but to be compliant and to mitigate risk, it is up to facilities to check not only federal laws, but state laws as well.