Medical waste disposal is regulated by the federal and state government. Here’s what happens in Alaska.
There are several key categories of waste that are typically classified as ‘regulated’. Each category typically has special handling requirements that are usually state-specific.
In Alaska, medical waste disposal regulations are managed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The state’s definition of medical waste is very much the same as anywhere else: medical waste includes anything that is potentially pathogenic. Its list outlines the following:
- Blood and other bodily fluids;
- Blood‐soaked bandages, compresses;
- Tissues, such as organs or biopsy samples;
- Used and unused hypodermic needles from the injection of insulin or other prescribed drugs;
- Tattoo and body piercing needles;
- Home kidney dialysis filter, bags, and equipment;
- Automatic lancets used for blood sampling;
- Contaminated gloves or other protective materials; or
- Culture materials and swabs.
Alaska is also one of 21 states that has an approved occupational safety and health (OSHA) program, which is operated by the Division of Labor Standards and Safety. This program covers aspects of medical waste, including management of sharps, requirements for containers that hold or store medical waste, labeling of medical waste bags/containers, and employee training. These standards are designed to protect healthcare workers from the risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
Perhaps the most interesting fact about Alaska’s medical waste regulation is that Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, has its own medical waste management policy that is separate from the rest of the state. The policy applies to any private or public medical, dental or veterinary clinic, office, laboratory, hospital or other facility or service within the Municipality of Anchorage which generates, collects or processes medical waste with the intent of disposing the waste at the Anchorage Regional Landfill.
Generally, medical waste is not to be disposed of unless it has already been treated, meaning biologically rendered harmless, either through active steam sterilization or incineration.
Nearly all 50 states have enacted medical waste regulations to some extent. However, unlike state hazardous waste regulations, which are all based on the federal RCRA standards, state medical waste standards can vary diversely.