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April 2007

VA to develop medical waste tracking system

In a settlement with EPA, the United States Veterans Administration Healthcare System has committed to implement a comprehensive hazardous waste and chemicals management inventory system at all Veterans Administration (VA) facilities in New England. The VA is developing the system to settle a 2005 EPA enforcement action for hazardous waste violations at the VA’s medical center in White River Junction, Vermont.

The system will incorporate hazardous waste pollution reduction measures into a comprehensive software system that tracks chemical purchase, use, storage and disposal. The hazardous waste management tracking system will be piloted in all VA hospitals in New England.

If successful, the waste management system could be usefully applied to other VA hospitals and health centers, as well as for other private and public hospitals across the country.

Establishing the waste management system will cost a minimum of $500,000. Under the settlement, the VA will also pay a cash penalty of $49,748.

Hospitals contribute to the presence of mercury, dioxin, and other persistent, bioaccumulative toxics (PBTs) in the environment. In 1998, hospitals were the fourth largest source of mercury discharged into the environment. Hospitals can generate a wide variety of hazardous waste, such as chemotherapy and antineoplastic chemicals, solvents, formaldehyde, photographic chemicals, radionuclides and waste anesthetic gases.

In addition, hospitals produce two million tons of solid waste, one percent of the total municipal solid waste in the United States.

Both nationwide and within New England, the VA has been the subject of repeated violations of environmental regulations. Relying on an outdated paper-based record keeping system is seen as a significant contributor to the VA’s difficulty complying with hazardous waste management requirements.

The 2005 EPA action involved the VA’s improper storage and handling of hazardous materials, including potentially explosive hazardous waste (ether and picric acid) which were stored in clinical laboratory and pathology areas.

The comprehensive hazardous waste and chemicals management inventory system will include automatic chemical pre-purchase review; a chemical product storage inventory management system; implementation of source reduction and reuse strategies; and a hazardous waste inventory management and tracking system.

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