Waste disposal, veterinary style

Two new web resources address safe handling practices

September 16, 2011 (published)
By Edie Lau

In the course of business at Nanuet Animal Hospital north of New York City, Dr. Michael Goldmann and his staff sometimes have perplexing questions.

What’s the proper way to dispose of the formaldehyde-based preservative formalin? Who are the approved regulated waste carriers in New York state? What’s a good approach for educating pet owners not to flush leftover drugs down a sink or toilet? What should be done with an amputated limb?

Until recently, there was no central go-to source for information on the array of waste-disposal issues that veterinary clinics encounter. Now there are two places practitioners can turn to for answers to questions about proper handling of veterinary waste.

Both resources are online. The newer of the two, which debuted in July, is Veterinary Compliance Assistance — nicknamed VetCA (pronounced VET-kuh)  — a public website developed with backing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is a veterinary-specific version of a site that serves the human health care sector.

The aim of the site is to help veterinarians navigate the sometimes bewildering world of government rules on hazardous and otherwise potentially harmful wastes. “A lot of the environmental regulations that affect the health care community are somewhat complicated and confusing,” said Chen Wen, an EPA representative in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, adding that the agency understands it is important to offer guidance. “A lot of the regulations were originally written for manufacturing companies.”

A site developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and launched in April for its members, “Waste Disposal for Veterinary Practices: What Goes Where?” has the same purpose.

Dr. Kristi Henderson, assistant director of scientific activities for the AVMA, who had a hand in the development of both sites, describes the AVMA resource as the “Cliffs notes” version, and the EPA-sponsored site as a more encyclopedic approach. She said the sites augment one another.

“For general veterinarians, if they’re looking for a quick answer and scenarios, that would be our site,” Henderson said. “For more detail and more reading, that would be VetCA. They’re both very good. ... We both refer to each other on different items.”

The introduction of both sites within months of each other was coincidental. Henderson said an EPA-backed project was initiated in 2008 but stalled due to a lapse in funding.

Meanwhile, “We were getting requests, and demands in some cases, by our membership (for information),” Henderson said. So the AVMA began to put its own web resource together. Then funding became available for the EPA-sponsored project.

“It’s just ironic timing,” Henderson said.

Some of the information compiled by the AVMA is available to the public but much is accessible only to members. The resource is considered a member benefit, Henderson said, owing to the staff time involved in its development and maintenance.

VetCA is run by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a non-profit organization that, among other things, receives grants from the EPA to develop and maintain compliance assistance centers for a diversity of industries such as construction, food processing and import/export. In setting up the online centers, the organization’s task is to be a “neutral third party” for delivering information, according to Bill Chenevert, administrative director of VetCA.

Chenevert said much of the information on the veterinary site echoes that on the site devoted to the human health care industry; some is even more broadly applicable, such as information on “green” buildings and landscaping. But some information, such as that on disposing animal carcasses, clearly is specific to veterinary medicine.

Chen said funding for VetCA came out of a $70,000 grant for ongoing development and maintenance of the human health care site in the 2010 fiscal year. Chenevert said about $50,000 was devoted to creating VetCA.

In addressing environmental matters in the health-care community, the EPA has attended to smaller sectors such as veterinary medicine for at least the past several years. In 2008, for example, the agency proposed to survey medical professionals, including veterinarians, on how they dispose of unused pharmaceuticals. Objections from health-care practitioners that the lengthy survey would be a costly burden to complete led the agency to skip the questions and move directly to writing "best practices” guidelines for drug disposal.  

Although the impetus for VetCA was to help practitioners understand and follow federal and state requirements for waste handling and disposal, Chen noted that the website includes information as well on voluntary actions for shrinking practices’ environmental footprints.

Goldmann, the clinic owner in New York state, learned about VetCA recently and said he was impressed with the site. “(It has) lots of information that is concisely collected,” he said. “My staff and I will refer to this site often.”

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