If you're responsible for dealing with the collection, segregation, labeling, packaging, and disposal of medical waste, it's important that you fully understand Alabama's medical waste disposal regulations.
Alabama Medical Waste Disposal
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) considers medical waste to be:
- Animal waste such as body parts and carcasses of animals exposed to human infectious agents. This typically occurs when animals are used for the production and/or testing of pharmaceuticals.
- Blood and body fluids including, among other things, bulk blood and bulk blood components such as serum and plasma.
- Microbiological waste such as discarded cultures and human infectious agents.
- Pathological waste which includes discarded human tissues organs and body parts .
- Renal dialysis waste.
- Sharps, which are any used or unused discarded items that may cause punctures or cuts, such as hypodermic needles and IV tubing with needles attached.
- Surgical waste that is contaminated with human blood, blood components, or body fluids. Dressings, disposable gowns, underpads, and surgical gloves are just some of the items that qualify as surgical waste.
What You Need to Know
Alabama’s medical waste disposal regulations are overseen by the Department of Environmental Management Land Division and are outlined in Medical Waste Program Regulations, Division 17.
Here are the key points to understand.
Medical Waste Generators
Alabama defines medical waste generators as “medical facilities or people who produce or generate medical waste.” This can include hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, laboratories, veterinary clinics, funeral homes, and more. If your facility is in the same building as other medical offices, each individual facility is considered a separate generator and is responsible for disposing of its own medical waste.
Segregation of Treated and Untreated Medical Waste
Treated and untreated medical waste must be separated from your facility’s general waste stream at the point of generation. This is best accomplished by those staff members who are trained in the identification of medical waste and hazardous waste exclusions. Any and all material classified as potentially infectious must be placed into lined containers that adhere to ADEM’s packaging and labeling regulations.
It is imperative that radioactive, bulk cytotoxic, explosive, and other hazardous materials listed on the EPA's hazardous materials list are never placed in the same container used to store treated or untreated medical waste.
Packaging and Labeling
Proper packaging must be used to maintain the integrity of the medical waste containers throughout its handling, storage, transportation, and treatment. Proper packaging also serves to prevent medical waste leaks and spills while also providing additional protection to staff members who handle the waste. New ADEM regulations require that the outermost container includes:
- Your facility’s name and address.
- The date the medical waste was placed in its outermost container.
- In addition to the international biological hazard symbol, one of these words or phrases: “Medical Waste,” “Biohazardous Waste,” or “Infectious.”
These containers must be impervious to moisture and strong enough to prevent bursting, ripping or tearing under normal use. Sharps must be placed immediately into rigid, leak-proof and puncture resistant containers that are clearly labeled and sealed to prevent loss of contents during normal handling. Reusable containers must be decontaminated after each use with an approved treatment method and single-use containers must be constructed from a material that can be incinerated.
Alabama State regulations require that the storage of treated and untreated medical waste not exceed 7 calendar days from the date initial storage begins, though an exception is made for waste that is refrigerated at a temperature below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This regulation varies greatly from other states which typically allow 30 to 90 days storage.
In any event, all containers waiting for pick-up must be stored in a dry, weather-protected area with minimal exposure to the general public.
Alabama is one of 26 states that are covered entirely by the federal OSHA program that has its own rules and regulations for management of sharps, requirements for containers that hold or store treated and untreated medical waste, labeling of containers, and employee training.
The bottom line on Alabama medical waste requirements? Medical waste, whether non-infectious or infectious, must be responsibly managed by the facility that generates it. That makes it imperative for you to continually check not only federal laws but state laws as well.