Regulated Medical Waste
Approximately 18,000 regulated medical waste (RMW) generators in New York State dispose of an estimated 200,000 tons of RMW annually. In the late 1980's, medical debris washed up on New York beaches, resulting in the enactment of the federal Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988.
As a result of that Act, a $1.5 billion per year medical waste management industry was born, stricter RMW disposal laws and regulations were developed, and sensitivity regarding the proper management and disposal of RMW increased.
Although the MWTA expired in 1991, this Act, public sensitivity and a large body of state and federal laws and regulations have shaped the State's regulated medical waste program. State Chapter 438 of the Laws of 1993, federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at reducing hospital incinerator emissions, and United States Department of Transportation regulations governing the interstate transport of RMW, will contribute to additional growth in the medical waste management industry, and influence RMW disposal in the State into the 21st century. In the State, RMW consists of a variety of materials, including infectious animal wastes, human pathological waste, human blood and blood products, needles and syringes (sharps) and cultures and stocks (microbiological materials) generated in research or health care. Each of these materials requires a different type of treatment to destroy pathogens or disease-causing organisms prior to disposal at an authorized solid waste management facility. Such treatment can be achieved, depending on the waste type, through autoclaving, incineration, or with an alternative treatment technology (e.g., microwave, chemical disinfection, electro-thermal and steam-thermal inactivation) approved by New York State. (The Medical Waste Tracking Form (PDF) (20 kB) can be downloaded here or in the right column of this page.)
Since the enactment of the MWTA, the number of RMW commercial storage, treatment and destruction facilities requiring a Part 360 permit to operate has increased to 30 with throughput capacities of up to 96 tons per day. Several more facilities are in the permitting process. To protect community health and safety and the environment, these commercially operated facilities are required to adhere to strict performance standards to ensure that the waste is properly treated before disposal. Treated RMW may be disposed (if accompanied by a certificate of treatment form) at an authorized solid waste management facility.
To address the changes brought about by Chapter 438, Laws of 1993, DEC published a guidance document entitled "Guidance for Regulated Medical Waste Treatment, Storage, Containment, Transport and Disposal," dated December 1996. In addition, DEC has sponsored and participated in several workshops around the State. DEC has provided technical assistance to many large quantity generators on RMW management issues, and continues to assist with proper RMW management and disposal practices.
Due to changing federal and State regulations, limited authorized disposal facilities, public sensitivity, health issues, and costs associated with RMW disposal, DEC will continue to educate the public and private sectors and provide oversight for RMW treatment to ensure appropriate treatment and disposal.
More about Regulated Medical Waste:
- Household Sharps-Dispose of Them Safely - Information on the containment and disposal of sharps in New York State.