Getting to Know the Common Medical Waste Agencies and Their Roles: CDC, EPA, DOT, OSHA

The alphabet soup of medical waste regulation: why generators need to be familiar with the common medical waste agencies – CDC, EPA, DOT, and OSHA.

Whether it’s the federal or local level, there are multiple agencies that regulate medical waste disposal, and for generators, it may just look like a big bowl of alphabet soup. The CDC, EPA, DOT, and OSHA exist to regulate how medical waste generators dispose and treat waste. Failure to comply with regulations can result in hefty fines. Here’s what each agency is responsible for.


The CDC stands for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. agency charged with tracking and investigating public health trends. It publishes key health information, including weekly data on all deaths and diseases reported in the U.S. and travelers’ health advisories. The CDC also fields special rapid-response teams to halt epidemic diseases.


The EPA stands for the Environmental Protection Agency, and it exists to protect human health and the environment. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with 10 regional offices around the country, the EPA creates and enforces regulations that enact environmental legislation, which at one point included medical waste. The EPA no longer has a role in the regulation of medical waste, but the federal agency did have an influence on most current state definitions of regulated medical waste, which stem from the EPA’s Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988.


The Department of Transportation (DOT) assigns the responsibility to the shipper/generator for properly packaging medical waste that is being transported off site. From the moment you generate medical waste, the disposal of that waste is ultimately your responsibility. However, how medical waste is disposed of doesn’t just stop at the red bag or sharps container.  The DOT requires that medical waste shippers receive general awareness, security awareness, and training when it comes to transporting medical waste. It is critical that shippers of regulated medical waste receive comprehensive training on the DOT rules.    


While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not regulate the final disposal of medical waste, it sets forth standards designed to ensure the safety of anyone who comes in contact with medical waste.  OSHA establishes guidelines that dictate the safe handling, transport, and disposal of medical waste.  OSHA may fine generators up to $7,000 for each non-compliant item on their checklist, and ensures that generators are current on MSDS/SDSs, Safety Training, and Safety Plans. Compliance training programs exist to ensure that generators are compliant and establish good practices.

Most medical waste generators choose to hire a compliant medical waste disposal company to take care of the complicated disposal process for them. Because the consequences of noncompliance are potentially high, it’s best to seek a full-service medical waste management company that can guide you through the process of how to properly handle your generated medical waste.

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