Regulated medical waste in Maryland (RMW), also known as “biohazard” waste or infectious medical waste, is the portion of the waste stream generated by health-care facilities in Maryland that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials, posing a significant risk of transmitting infection and endangering human health and the environment in Maryland Communities.
Growing awareness in Maryland of HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s, along with several prominent incidents of medical waste washing up on the beaches of the East Coast were the inspiration for increased regulatory oversight of medical waste in all States including Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. In 1988, EPA passed the Medical Waste Tracking Act a two-year program that regulated disposal of medical waste in 4 states and Puerto Rico. The Act expired in 1991, but shortly thereafter, states began regulating the management of medical waste. As a whole set of new rules emerged, healthcare facilities in maryland and surrounding areas began to routinely dispose of the majority of healthcare-generated waste in red bags. Subsequently, healthcare facilities found themselves increasing their waste budgets by hundreds of thousands of dollars as they paid between 5-10 times as much for disposal of RMW as they did for solid waste disposal.
Not long after, environmental and public health concerns began to emerge around the treatment of medical waste. Incineration— then the primary mode of disposal of RMW— was identified as being a primary source of mercury and the toxic chemicals to the environment. In their efforts to protect human health from the infectious potential of RMW, healthcare facilities were inadvertently creating additional health risks to the population.
A Common Sense Approach To Maryland Medical Waste Disposal
In Maryland as more accurate information about the infectious potential of various healthcare generated waste streams has come to light, facilities have begun to implement waste segregation programs that minimize the amount of waste disposed of as RMW, but have had to balance the goals of these programs with state enforcement efforts that have left many facilities scared to segregate. The good news is that many healthcare facilities have now implemented comprehensive segregation programs that ensure compliance while minimizing RMW volumes to just 5-15% of their waste streams, and the market has largely chosen to move away from incineration to more environmentally friendly modes of disinfection.