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The EPA Regulations for Medical Waste You Should Know About

The EPA Regulations for Medical Waste You Should Know About

The proper disposal of medical waste became a concern for the EPA in the 1980s. Materials began showing up on beaches along the east coast that scared the nation.

There are regulations specific to area and state, as well as regulations that fall under the federal rule of EPA. It's important to understand regulations to promote the health of your community and avoid any punitive measures.

We've compiled a list of some regulations that you should keep in mind as you move forward in your practice.

EPA Regulations on Medical Waste

Regulations are specific to the materials that you're handling. There isn't one blanket statement that can cover the subject of medical waste. You need to handle materials according to their given regulations.

While the agency is a powerful force, it isn't always EPA that you should look to in order to find answers. EPA required four east coast states to adhere to regulations for a couple of years.

This requirement was a sort of experiment for the EPA to see what states could do to improve their disposal practices. The states were only required to enforce responsible practices for two years, though. States were able to make their own decisions from that point on.

EPA found that medical waste is most contagious around the point of generation. This means that the likelihood of spreading disease gradually decreases as time goes on. EPA then began to see disposal of medical waste as an occupational issue for states to address instead of a protection issue for them to consider.

Needles and Other Sharps

Exposure to sharps and needles is extremely hazardous. The risk of spreading disease and injury is very high.

You cannot throw these items in garbage bags and traditional waste methods because of the risk they carry for contaminating. Many self-injectors aren't aware of proper disposal methods. This puts community members at risk of being contaminated.

The EPA has suggested methods for states and communities to employ in order to safely dispose of needles and sharps. There are a variety of methods available on their website.


Most of the medical waste before the twenty-first century was incinerated. In 1997, though, there was rising concern that burning this waste could have serious effects on the environment in the long-term.

As a result, there were strict emission standards enforced to promote air quality and support human health. There are still incineration locations available for use, but they must be licensed to dispose of medical waste. EPA keeps a close watch on the emissions released from these facilities.

There are a few alternatives to incineration and they are the options that you should consider. EPA requires that waste is non-infectious before it can be placed in a landfill or incinerator.

The companies that you use to cleanse your waste must be certified or licensed to clean the waste or else you could be liable to punishment. Facilities that clean waste usually do so by using thermal treatment, steam sterilization, electropyrolysis, or chemical mechanical systems.

The Importance of State Regulations

States are more strict than EPA in many cases. State regulations are the ones that will require a little more attention to detail.

Nearly every state has its own medical waste regulations to consider and there are a variety of regulations among states. You need to look closely at your state's requirements.

The state's environmental protection agency is in charge of the medical waste requirements. They are the people that you should contact before taking any action. If the state environmental protection agency isn't your state's authority, the department of health will be your next call.


The Department of Occupational Safety & Health Administration is in control of a few aspects as well. They are the regulators of disposal of sharps and needles, the containers used to hold and transport medical waste, the labels used on containers and bags, and the instruction that employees need to go through.

It might seem complicated with so many agencies to go through. It won't be too hard to get your requirements, though, because your state's environmental protection agency will have all of the information you need.

Other Things to Consider

As we've stated, EPA doesn't have a very important position when it comes to medical waste management. They gave their power to other agencies, but one element of the process is still regulated by EPA-- the treatment technologies.

EPA manages the emissions from incinerators and other methods of waste treatment. This is why it's essential that you find a facility that is licensed and approved to treat your waste. You could be looking at federal punishment if you dispose of your waste illegally.

The other federal program that's involved is the Department of Transportation (DOT). While you won't be responsible for transporting the waste, you are responsible for being associated with people who safely deliver hazardous materials. There is a level of liability involved with shipping your waste.

Make sure that all transportation is done by the books. You may be liable for punishment if you're involved with a transporter who is not working to the DOT regulations.

Understand Dental Waste Management

Your waste management must be specific to your practice. It's essential that you adhere to, and understand your state's waste regulations.

Different professions produce different wastes, requiring different regulations. Take mercury amalgam for example. This is a toxic element that is specific to dental practices and needs to be disposed of in a certain way.

If you're interested in learning more about how to dispose of the medical waste in your dental practice, we have the information you're looking for.