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Safe Community Needle Disposal

OklahomaOklahoma's Public Health Laws and Regulations: Impact on the Safe Disposal of Used Syringes by Individuals in the Community

Content Verified on: November 5, 2003


Summary

Regulatory Environment

  • Oklahoma requires the Board of County Commissioners from each county to create a solid waste management system to be approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.
  • Oklahoma’s solid waste regulations classify sharps as a form of biomedical waste.
  • The solid waste regulations establish standards for the storage, packaging, labeling, and treatment of biomedical waste as well as standards for biomedical waste processing facilities and incinerators.
  • Household waste is not subject to Oklahoma’s medical waste regulations.

Identified Community-based Disposal Initiatives

  • No syringe disposal programs were identified in Oklahoma, but that does not mean that no such programs operate in the state.

Introduction

Disposing of contaminated medical waste, including needles, syringes, and other “sharps,” has become an important issue in public health policy. Waste generated in the health care system is highly regulated at the state and federal level. Hospitals and other health care facilities must follow special procedures for handling, transporting, and disposing of medical waste, including used needles that may contain blood. Facilities also have instituted strict safeguards to protect health care workers, housekeeping staff, sanitation workers, and waste haulers from needlesticks because of the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other bloodborne infections.

Less attention has been paid to safe disposal of used syringes that come from individuals living in the community. However, as many as 3 billion syringes are used each year outside health care facilities: It is estimated that between 0.9 and 1.68 billion insulin injections and up to 1 billion illegal drug injections occur each year in the United States. After being used and discarded, most of these syringes end up in the public solid waste system. This presents a risk of needlestick injury and infection, mostly to solid waste workers. A much smaller number are discarded in public areas, such as parks, presenting a risk to the public.

This section of CDC’s Community Syringe Disposal, Laws and Regulations, and the Public Health web site looks at the public health dimensions of this problem. It describes this state’s solid and infectious waste laws and regulations as they relate to syringe disposal. It provides background information on several key disposal options currently used in the U.S. and describes the impact of this state’s laws and regulations on the way that individuals may use these options. It also includes brief descriptions of some safe disposal programs in the state and provides contact information for the state’s public health and environmental management agencies.

This web site is designed primarily for individuals and communities who are working to build safe syringe disposal programs and improve public understanding of this important issue. We hope that the information and tools provided here will help communities move closer to the ultimate goal of “no syringes discarded in the trash or in public locations such as parks, buildings, or the streets.”


Current Published Guidance for Individuals

Oklahoma does not provide written guidance on community syringe disposal. However, the Department of Environmental Quality, Land Protection Division, recommends that individuals who use syringes at home place their syringes in rigid, puncture-proof containers, such as a liquid detergent bottle, and then wrap the container with a matrix, such as cement or plaster.


Solid and Infectious Waste Policies

1. Solid Waste Statute

Summary
Establishes rule making authority: The solid waste statute requires the Board of County Commissioners from each county to create a solid waste management system to be approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Statute
Section §27A-2-10-1001 of the Oklahoma Statutes [Ref 1]

2. Solid Waste Rules

Summary
Establishes a definition: “Sharps” (hypodermic needles and syringes) are classified as a form of regulated infectious waste. Regulated infectious waste is classified as a form of biomedical waste.

Establishes biomedical waste standards: The solid waste rules establish standards for the storage, packaging, labeling, and treatment of biomedical waste as well as standards for biomedical waste processing facilities and incinerators.

Establishes biomedical waste disposal requirements: Once biomedical waste has been properly treated, packaged, and labeled it may be disposed of as municipal solid waste.

Establishes permit requirements for biomedical waste: All facilities that process or dispose of solid wastes are required to obtain a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality.

Establishes packaging, storage, and transportation requirements for sharps: The rules require sharps to be segregated from other wastes; packaged, stored, and transported in rigid, puncture-proof sharps containers; and labeled with proper identification and the universal biohazard symbol prior to being transported or treated at a biomedical processing facility.

Establishes treatment requirements for sharps: Sharps must be encapsulated within a solidifying matrix.

Rule
Chapter 520, Subchapter 19 of the Oklahoma Rules, Title 252 [Ref 2]

3. Medical Waste Rules

Establishes regulated medical waste management requirements: The medical waste rules establish standards for the treatment and disposal of regulated medical waste for all commercial facilities that process, incinerate or transport regulated medical waste.

Household waste is excluded from medical waste requirements: Household wastes are not subject to the requirements of the medical waste rule even if they contain regulated medical waste.

Rule
Chapter 515, Subchapter 23 of the Oklahoma Rules, Title 252 [Ref 3]

Responsible Agency
Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Land Protection Division


Bloodborne Pathogen Standards

Summary
Federal bloodborne pathogen rule applies – Oklahoma has not established its own state plan for regulating bloodborne pathogens. Therefore, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards apply.

Sets requirements for collection sites when employees handle the sharps containers – Operators of sharps container collection sites in which employees physically accept and handle filled sharps containers from customers are required to meet the OSHA bloodborne pathogen standards. This involves developing a written Exposure Control Plan that identifies the frequency of exposure and the tasks and procedures in which exposure may occur. The Plan also must address methods of compliance, hepatitis B vaccination, hazard communication to employees, recordkeeping, and methods to evaluate exposure incidents.

Sets requirements for collection sites when employees do not handle the sharps containers – Operators of sharps container collection sites in which customers place filled sharps containers into a collection container are not subject to the bloodborne pathogen standard. In this situation, employees must not handle the sharps containers. Those involved with removing the sharps containers from the collection container must meet the standard.

Law
29 CFR Part 1910.1030 [Ref 4]

Responsible Agency
U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Regional Office (Responsible for administrative activities in Region 6)
Area Office (Responsible for OSHA compliance in Oklahoma)


Selected Community Syringe Disposal Options

Container Collection Sites

Background

How This Option Works
An individual brings filled sharps containers to a collection site such as a pharmacy, medical facility (for example, a hospital or public health clinic), or non-medical facility (for example, a fire station) for safe disposal. Other sites have sharps collection drop boxes (a kiosk, mailbox-type receptacle, or other secured collection bin). This is a viable option that can capture many of the syringes generated in the community. Successful syringe container collection programs feature:

  • minimal regulatory constraints placed on collection sites;
  • easy access provided through numerous and well-publicized collection locations; and
  • minimal costs to users through subsidized costs of containers and disposal.

Even if a community does not have collection site programs, an individual may be able to develop an informal relationship with a local pharmacy or other facility that will accept and safely dispose of filled syringe containers.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Sharps container collection programs have two key advantages:

  • Used syringes are kept out of the regular solid waste stream, which reduces the risk of needlestick injuries to waste and recycling workers (see Disposal in the Trash for more information).
  • Syringes collected through these programs are disposed of safely as medical waste. This involves special disinfection to destroy germs and destruction or burial to ensure that the needle points cannot injure anyone.

Facilities and individuals may perceive some disadvantages:

  • Individuals may feel that bringing sharps containers to a collection site is inconvenient and reduces their privacy because it identifies them as a syringe user.
  • Collection sites may have to comply with state bloodborne pathogen standards and medical waste disposal requirements, and they must carefully maintain the collection bins or kiosks.

Effect of Oklahoma’s Laws and Regulations on Container Collection Sites
Sharps container collection sites are not specifically addressed in Oklahoma’s solid waste laws and regulations. A collection site would have to comply with the biomedical waste management standards established in Oklahoma’s solid waste rules.

Collection site operators may also be subject to meeting bloodborne pathogen standards, depending on how the sharps containers are collected and handled.

Container Mailback Programs

Background

How This Option Works
Sharps containers are distributed to customers and, when full, are mailed back to a syringe disposal company for safe disposal. This is a viable option that can capture some of the used syringes generated in the community.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Syringe mailback programs have the same advantages as syringe container collection sites:

  • Used syringes are kept out of the regular solid waste stream, which reduces the risk of needlestick injuries to waste and recycling workers (see Disposal in the Trash for more information).
  • Syringes collected through these programs are disposed of safely as medical waste. This involves special disinfection to destroy germs and destruction or burial to ensure that the needle points cannot injure anyone.

The cost of mailing the container to the disposal company varies. The cost may be too high for some individuals, and may be considered a disadvantage.

Effect of Oklahoma’s Laws and Regulations on Container Mailback Programs
Sharps container mailback programs are not addressed by Oklahoma’s solid waste laws and regulations. However, sharps container collection programs are regulated under the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) when syringes are mailed [Ref 5]. The USPS regulations establish specific packaging, labeling, and tracking requirements for these syringes.

Disposal in the Trash

Background

How This Option Works
Individuals place their used syringes in the household trash, either loose or in a puncture-resistant container. Some individuals remove the needle from the syringe and put it in a container using a special device. The syringe and contained needle are then disposed of in the household trash.

Advantages and Disadvantages
The main advantages of this option are convenience and low cost.

This option has one important disadvantage – it places people at risk of being stuck by a needle and increases their chances of contracting a bloodborne infection:

  • Placing unprotected syringes into the household trash puts waste collectors at risk [Ref 6].
  • Placing used needles in a puncture-resistant container may help protect trash collectors from being stuck. Even so, most containers disposed of in the trash shatter in the garbage truck and release their contents. This places other waste workers at risk.
  • Bottles or cans used as puncture-resistant containers may be recycled by mistake. This puts waste recyclers at risk.

Effect of Oklahoma’s Laws and Regulations on Disposal in the Trash
Oklahoma laws and regulations do not specifically address syringes that are used at home. However, the Department of Environmental Quality Land Protection Division advises home users to place their used syringes in rigid, puncture-proof containers, such as liquid detergent bottles, and to encapsulate the syringes within a solidifying matrix, such as cement or plaster, before disposal in the trash.


How Might Oklahoma Ensure Safe Syringe Disposal by Individuals in the Community?

The state legislature and individual communities may wish to actively encourage individuals to safely dispose of used syringes and make it easier for them to do so. Many options for state and local action exist. They range from gathering data, to developing community collection site programs and education efforts, to creating partnerships with interested groups, to considering amending laws and regulations. All will help Oklahoma move toward the goal of “no syringes discarded in the trash or public locations.”


Current Identified Community Syringe Disposal Programs in Oklahoma Go to Top

No syringe disposal programs were identified in Oklahoma, but that does not mean that no such programs operate in the state.


Responsible Agencies in Oklahoma

Links below will open in a new browser window.

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality
Land Protection Division
PO Box 1677
Oklahoma City, OK 73101-1677
Tel: (405) 702-5100
Fax: (405) 702-5101
Contact: Adrian Simmons
Tel: (405) 702-5100

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Regional Office
525 Griffin Street, Room 602
Dallas, Texas 75202
Tel: (214) 767-4731
Fax: (214) 767-4137

Oklahoma City Area Office
55 North Robinson - Suite 315
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73102-9237
Tel: (405) 278-9560
Fax: (405) 278-9572


References

Links below will open in a new browser window.

1. Oklahoma Statutes, §27A-2-10-1001 [Scroll to “Search For” and type in “Solid waste”]

2. Oklahoma Rules, Title 252PDF IconLink to a non-CDC site [Department of Environmental Quality], Chapter 520 [Solid Waste Management], Subchapter 19 [Biomedical Waste]

3. Oklahoma Rules, Title 252PDF IconLink to a non-CDC site [Department of Environmental Quality], Chapter 515 [Management of Solid Waste], Subchapter 23 [Regulated Medical Waste]

4. Bloodborne Pathogen Standards – 29 CFR Part 1910.1030.

5. USPS Domestic Mail Manual [Click on “DMM Subject Index” then scroll to and click on “Sharps, CO23.85”]

6. Turnberg WL, Frost F. Survey of occupational exposure of waste industry workers to infectious waste in Washington State. American Journal of Public Health 1990;80(10):1262-1264.



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