Medical waste disposal regulations loom for veterinarians

Biohazard Regulations
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Jun 01, 2004

Columbus, Ohio- Infectious waste disposal costs for veterinarians likely will climb in states such as Ohio, as regulatory agencies work to adopt heightened regulations to meet federal code.


The price tag for disposing of medical waste is on the rise. States such as Ohio and Massachusetts are upping the ante on compliance to meet federal codes. Officials caution, if new rules are not adopted, states will be vulnerable to fines and disciplinary actions.
Ohio law allows small infectious waste generators (those producing less than 50 pounds a month) to throw sharps containers and tissue out with solid trash. But the Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Law, adopted in 2003, preempts state statutes and mandates all infectious waste, regardless of amount, to be treated and tagged before disposal.

The increased regulations, outlined as CFR 173.24, are enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation and designed to stave off terrorism related to the transport of hazardous materials, officials report. Since the Federal Medical Tracking Act expired in 1993, states have regulated infectious waste disposal using state-enacted laws and oversight agencies. Now the federal government wants more control, and states slow to make changes are vulnerable to fines and fees. DOT reports Ohio as the only known state actively making in-house alterations to meet federal code. At the same time, Massachusetts stands to receive the government's first fines for noncompliance, federal officials report.

"The whole deal's confusing," says Jack Advent, Ohio Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA) executive director.

"The federal law has been in place for over a year, so the Ohio EPA is playing catch-up," Advent says. "Small waste generators are the vast majority of our members, and they'll be affected. This is literally all coming to fruition in Ohio; I don't think practitioners are aware yet."

Assembling newsAt presstime, Advent was gathering information on what the regulations will mean for OVMA members. According to DOT officials, there is no deadline for state compliance, but if an industry transporter complains that a state's regulations differ from the federal system, an investigation and fines are likely to ensue, says Susan Gorsky, HazMat Security Regulation Lead.

"We won't go after states on our own," Gorsky says. "But like Ohio, if other states are not consistent with the federal code, they might be vulnerable to preemption action."

Red tapeThat's exactly what Ohio attempts to avoid, but red tape bars state officials from immediately meeting federal laws, says Angela Evans, EPA infectious waste specialist. Before Ohio revamps its requirements, state legislators must allow the EPA to alter its administrative rules. Only then can officials amend the state code to meet federal regulations, Evans says.

"We, right now, don't have the authority to make changes; it's unconstitutional," she says. "But we're moving forward with this."

Until the legislative process is complete, current infectious waste regulations will remain in affect, Evans adds. Training will be developed to communicate changes and provide explanations prior to an effective date.

Specific instructionsEvans admits purchasing gallon containers along with transportation and treatment of infectious waste will cost small generators more, but it's something the veterinary community should expect.

In a press release, the EPA offers the following guidelines for veterinarians:

  • No untreated infectious waste, regardless of amount, may be disposed of as solid waste, i.e. sharps containers cannot be thrown into a trash can.
  • Shipping papers are required to accompany all untreated waste that travels on any public road including transportation from any satellite premises to the main facility for on-site treatment.
  • Use the specified packaging requirements as outlines in 49 CFR 17.24. The requirement allows flexibility with the selection of packaging material.

A series of articles addressing the transportation, packaging and shipping paper aspects of the infectious waste regulations will be published on the Ohio EPA, Division of Solid and Infectious Waste Management Web page, http://www.epa.state.oh.us/dsiwm.