Consumer Advocacy

Medical Waste Pollution in the U.S.


Medical waste or biohazardous wastes are more dangerous than household waste. Medical waste items contain bodily fluids, gross tissues, and sharps that possess pathogens that cause disease. Contamination or leaks of medical waste in human habitat can also cause disease.

Regulations regarding medical waste disposal are in the hands of federal and state government, which can complicate monitoring. Therefore, it is difficult to determine the full extent of medical waste pollution in the United States.

Most medical institutions in the United States have access to facilities that readily process biohazardous waste. However, there is a growing opposition to the use of unregulated incineration plants to dispose of medical waste. Today, there are at least 1,500 medical waste treatment facilities in the country that use autoclaving or microwave technology, which minimize the impact to the environment.

The latest information about medical waste pollution in the United States was published in the early 1990s

Medical waste was not a concern until 1987, when the beaches of New Jersey and New York were contaminated with tons of used syringes. With AIDS fears then at an all-time high, the incident seared the dangers of medical waste into the minds of the public. In response, the U.S. Federal Government enacted the Medical Waste Tracking Act. After it expired, the bulk of the responsibility of regulation was passed to state governments.

In 1988, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) wrote about the issues of medical waste management in the country:

  • Many institutions use small-scale incinerators to dispose of medical waste. However, limited data shows that such practices emit relatively large levels of pollutants. Due to poor regulations, the impact of small-scale medical waste incineration in the country is difficult to determine.
  • Many incinerators in hospitals are located In densely populated areas, increasing potential for higher exposure of the population to poisonous byproducts of incinerated medical waste.

At the time, the EPA had issued ‘guidance’, not a standard, for state governments to observe regarding hauling and disposal of medical waste.  More and more waste items were required to be treated as infectious, but viable treatment and disposal options were being eliminated or were cost-prohibitive. Due to this scenario, many institutions were transporting medical waste outside the state or even outside the country. This prompted the adoption of recordkeeping systems to track the movement of medical waste.

The amount of medical waste generated increases every year as medical technology improves and as the population grows older. In 2010, an estimated 5.9 million tons of waste were produced in hospitals.

What you can do to prevent an environmental catastrophe due to medical waste

Waste from medical sources is an inevitable hazard of health care services, and a means to dispose of it properly is a necessity. With costs rising in the health care industry, medical waste disposal is an increased financial burden. If you are a medical waste generator, there are things you can do to reduce the costs of disposal and the impact to the environment.

Choosing medical a waste collection service that offers competitive pricing can help reduce your costs. US Bio-Clean, based in Arizona, offers no surprise price increases, and no long-term contracts for biohazardous waste hauling and disposal. In addition, US Bio-Clean services are priced 30%-50% lower than the leading nationwide waste disposal provider. US Bio-Clean is a government-recommended medical waste collection service. US Bio-Clean has its own end-disposal facilities compliant with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality regulations.


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