• DFW Medical Waste

Biohazard Waste Disposal Regulations and Standards

Updated: Mar 13

Federal Regulations and Standards

In the 1970’s, waste disposal legislation was poor or non-existent.  The 1965 Solid Waste Disposal Act encouraged states to develop waste management programs.  The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act had required installation of pollution control devises on smokestacks and pipes.

Maggots cover a plastic cup, the floor, and a mattress and box spring from extended decomposition.

These Acts did not directly dictate where the waste was supposed to go nor the processing of the waste prior to disposal.  Landfills at the time were simply holes in the ground that were compacted by bulldozers until full and then covered with topsoil in preparation for commercial development above.


Biohazard remediation includes the capture of biologically-contaminated materials, odor treatment, and the comprehensive disinfection of the affected area.

Prior to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), there wasn’t stringent record keeping requirements to identify the origination of the waste.  The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act were enacted in 1976 to address the limitations of the existing legislation.  The RCRA is an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act.  


In addition to the large amount of maggots, the mattress was saturated with body fluid released during decomposition.

The four basic goals of RCRA are:

(1) to create definitions to determine the classes of wastes coming under its authority;

(2) to create a tracking system for hazardous waste from its creation to its ultimate disposal; (3) to establish handling standards for the waste from its generation to its disposal; and

(4) provides authority for mandatory clean-up of polluted treatment, storage, and disposal sites.


RCRA was the first environmental law to take a life-cycle approach when it established standards for waste from its generation to its disposal.  When cleaning a crime/trauma scene, the waste associated with a human decomposition, suicide, homicide, or accident falls under RCRA Subtitle C.  


The biohazardous material is contained in medical waste boxes after being housed in "biohazard"-marked bags along with absorbent material to restrict leakage.

Subtitle C is the hazardous waste management program that was created to ensure safe hazardous waste handling from the moment it is generated to the moment it is finally disposed.


Contaminated clothing, trash, and bedding is treated as medical waste and placed in the biohazard disposal box.

Clandestine methamphetamine labs can be broken down into two legs of remediation, Bulk Decontamination and Residual Decontamination.  Both of these types of contamination are covered by each of the regulatory arms of RCRA and CERCLA, the Comprehensive Emergency, Response, Compensation and Liability Act (1980).  


RCRA takes a command-and-control approach by dictating the protocol for waste handling from its generation to disposal, while CERCLA focuses on liability related to prior waste disposal and the remediation of contaminated sites.  


“Almost every methamphetamine lab will produce either a listed or characteristic hazardous waste under RCRA”

North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology


CERCLA is not simply used to punish unauthorized disposal.  CERCLA is also intended to ensure remediation of sites after the toxins have been released.  CERCLA, also known as “Superfund”, has a joint and strict liability structure and its reach is broad.  CERCLA liability spans several categories of “potentially responsible parties”, including current property owners or operators and past property owners or operators.  These definitions enable the EPA to assign liability to every party who comes into contact as a contributor with a contaminated property (19).  


RCRA/TCEQ biohazard medical waste is contained in plastic due to the size and shape of the affected material in preparation for transport and disposal.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s residents of this later declared Superfund site began suffering a number of medical problems such as chronic headaches and skin rashes to geographical clusters of cancers, birth defects, and miscarriages.  The soil in this area was tested in 1978 and showed high levels of chemical contaminants in the soil and air.  Additional research into the area revealed that a large portion of Love Canal had been built upon a landfill.  This landfill contained over 21,000 tons of chemical wastes.  


The landfill that contained this waste was lined with clay and the contamination plume penetrated this clay and infiltrated local groundwater sources, significant soil deposits, and even local housing basements.  


Beginning in September 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) modernized the hazardous waste tracking system by standardizing the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest form.  


This action improved the waste handling process, helped standardize interstate commerce, and reduce the paperwork required with hazardous waste disposal.  The new process will save waste handlers and regulators time and money, while guaranteeing the continued, safe management of hazardous waste.  


The changes implemented to hazardous waste management forms are made in order to:


  • to standardize content and appearance

  • enhance reporting of international waste shipments (imports and exports)

  • to make the form more available by increasing the distribution to a wide range of sources

  • to clarify processing procedures for rejected waste shipments and shipment container residues


One drawback of the previous system was the variability in state manifest requirements.  The new system has reduced the time and money wasted by businesses involved in multiple state compliance requirements for transporting and disposing of their hazardous waste.


The hazardous waste manifest system dictated by RCRA requires each state to spend from $6 to $37 million to administer the hazardous waste manifest system annually.  According to the EPA’s estimates, the annual national savings for government administration and industry compliance from this change was between $12 and $20 million.


The Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHA) standard 29 CFR 1910.1030 applies to all occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials.  


This Subpart Title: Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Title: Bloodborne Pathogens discusses:

(1) occupational exposure to blood or other potential infectious materials;

(2) the establishment of an exposure control plan;

(3) methods of compliance through engineering and work practice controls;

(4) personal protective equipment requirements;

(5) the handling and disposal requirements of bloodborne pathogen contaminated waste;

(6) training requirements;

(7) vaccination availability; and

(8) record keeping. 


Regulations prior to 1976 adopted by the Texas state administrative agencies were not published in a standardized collection.  These regulations were issued an identification number consisting of 10 digits, but researching was limited due to the multiple agencies charged with implementing and enforcing the laws.  


The Texas Legislature directed the Secretary of State to compile these regulations in 1977.  This compilation was named the Texas Administrative Code (TAC).  


The Texas Register publishes “proposed, adopted, withdrawn and emergency rule actions, notices of state agency review of agency rules, governor’s appointments, and attorney general opinions.”  The Texas Register reports the adoption of an agency final rule to the Circulation Desk and this final rule is inserted into the Texas Administrative Code.  


Under the TAC, 16 titles cover a broad subject group in categories related to the oversight agencies that administer and enforce the codes.  Title 25 Health Services Subchapter K. covers the definition, treatment, and disposition of special waste from Health Care-Related facilities.  Under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, they cite listed and characteristic waste to account for hazardous material.  In comparison, the TAC Title 25 has almost 50 definitions related to special waste.  


For instance, definition (6) Body Fluids are broken down into ten subcategories that range from semen to pericardial fluid.  Blood, blood products, anatomical remains, and pathological waste are all cited in different definitions. TAC Title 30 Environmental Quality also covers hazardous waste under the definitions of animal waste from animals intentionally exposed to pathogens, bulk human blood and blood products, pathological waste, microbiological waste, and sharps.  


What this shows is that at the federal level, the legislation is purposely written vague to cover a wide range of waste and conditions.  Under the U.S. Constitution, states cannot regulate interstate commerce.  So, the adoption of standards at the state level must meet the hurdle set by the federal legislation.  Each state, such as Texas, can come in and clarify what they consider hazardous waste and dictate the treatment and disposal method as long as it doesn’t contradict the federal legislation. 


California, in relation to Texas, has gone even further to document the required permits and processes, enforcement guidelines, and has created more detailed definitions related to the components of the industry.  California legislators have created requirements that range from the impact resistance test requirements for Biohazard Bags to Enforcement Officer requirements that go all the way down to “health specialist trainees”.  Trauma Scene, Trauma Scene Waste, and Trauma Scene Waste Management Practitioners are all clearly defined in the Medical Waste Management Act.  


This detailed legislation may seem tedious but there are benefits to more clearly defined legislation.  When the legislation is written in direct relation to your individual task, such as Trauma Scene Waste Management Practitioners in California, the target market is more knowledgeable about your service.  


The interstate commerce of waste disposal cannot be limited by the states in response to the public outrage expressed in “Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) or the philosophy of something near “yes, sounds great but don’t put it near me.”  


One of the best examples is the residual nuclear waste from power plants that must be stored on site before they approve a plan to transport, across many state lines, this waste to Nevada’s Yucca Mountain storage facility.  


No one wants hazardous waste moving down their street or stored on property anywhere close to where they live, but these are byproducts of necessary processes or accidents that must be disposed of properly.  The framers of the U.S. Constitution constructed these guidelines before the knowledge of hazardous waste, such as bloodborne pathogens and nuclear fuel rods, was ever developed. 


In general, administrative agencies have the power to assess administrative penalties and to issue orders requiring actions necessary under law.  Persons affected by such action have the right to an adjudicatory hearing before an administrative law judge.  


Texas law provides that administrative law judge hears evidence and issues findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the evidence.  This administrative law judge then issues a recommendation for decision to the agency.  


A final agency decision rests with agency, such as the commissioners of the TCEQ.  Examples of government action options are below.


Procedures before administrative law judges.

a. Non-jury trial.

b. Administrative law judges can order discovery.

c. Parties submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.


Procedure before agency.

a. Parties generally are given a brief opportunity to summarize their arguments to the commissioners. 

b. No evidence taken; decision based on administrative law judge's report, although agency need not accept recommendation.


Appeals of administrative enforcement action.

a. To County District Court.

b. Court's review is similar to an appellate court's review of a trial decision;

c. Generally, no evidence at district court.

d. District court reviews errors of law and whether substantial evidence supports agency decision.


Administrative penalties are generally less than civil penalties.  Statutes give the attorney general the right to sue for civil penalties and injunctive relief.  Both parties have the right to demand a jury trial regarding the number of 

violations and the amount of civil penalty.    


Status of the State Public Health Law


“The mission of public health is fulfilling society’s interest in assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy.”  

National Academy of Sciences, 1988


One of the most important goals of government is the preservation of the public health.  Public health law encompasses the prevention of injury and chronic illness, improvement of the environment, protection of the food and water supply, better housing, sanitation, hygiene, and the control of infectious disease.  Even though the role of the federal government has increased in matters of public health, the states remain the primary public health authority.  The inherent power of the state as a sovereign government preserves this authority. 


Under these state governments, health authorities at the local level, municipal and county, often have delegated authority to monitor, implement, and enforce these objectives.  Public health officials at the local level are often the first to identify and respond to health threats through county or ordinances and regulations.  


Source Notes:

1) Salzman, James. Thompson, Barton H. Jr. Environmental Law and Policy, Foundation Press, Copyright 2003

2) Brigham, Eugene F., Ehrhardt, Michael C.Financial Management Theory and Practice 10th Edition. Publisher Mike Roche, Copyright 2002

3) Smith, James E.Fundamentals of Environmental EnforcementBeirne, Maynard & Parsons, Attorney At Law

4) Tomko, Edwin J., Wahl, Peter K.Criminal Liability Concerns to the Environmental Professional-I Should Have Known BetterAkin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, L.L.P.

5) Gostin, Lawrence O., Burris, Scott., Lazzarini, Zita., Maguire, Kathleen Improving State Law to Prevent and Treat Infectious Disease, www.milbank.org, January 1998

6) The Department of Rural Sociology Texas A&M University SystemSteve H. Murdock, Steve White, MD. Nazrul Hoque, Beverly Pecotte, Xiuhong You, Jennifer BalkanThe Texas Challenge in the Twenty-First Century: Implications of Population Change for the Future of TexasDecember 2002

7) California Department of Toxic Substances Control

8) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov

9) Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, www.tceq.com

13) Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality

14) World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/en/

15) Department of Health - Public Health Stats - Florida

http://www.doh.state.fl.us/planning_eval/intro.html

16) State of North Carolina Illegal Methamphetamine Laboratory

Decontamination and Re-occupancy Guidelines APRIL 2005 VERSION 1.1

17) www.Drug-Rehabs.org

18) cnn.com

19) abcnews.com

20) The North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology – Methamphetamine Residue



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