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10 Things to know about Biohazard Waste

10 Things to know about Biohazard Waste

Biohazard waste is a subset of medical waste and is defined as any waste from any source that may contain infectious or potentially infections substances that can transmit infection to people, animals, and/or the environment.  Attention to details on the handling, storage, and proper disposal of biohazard waste is critical for everyone’s safety and is governed by numerous local, state, and federal laws.

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Any facility that generates biohazard waste is required to comply with all of the guidelines and as a “generator” is responsible for the biohazard waste from the moment of generation to the point of proving that it has been rendered harmless.  It has been a journey for the various elements of government and the medical industry to recognize the disastrous dangers of biohazard waste and take appropriate actions for the safety of all. Here are ten things about biohazard waste that you may not be aware of:

  1. Recognition of biohazard waste came to a tipping point in the 1980s when used syringes and medical waste washed up on the shores of some of the East Coast beaches. This situation caused the enactment of MWTA (Medical Waste Tracking Act) of 1988 which was established for a 2-year period for the states of New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island Connecticut, and Puerto Rico.
  2. The purpose of the MWTA was to establish biohazard criteria medical waste guidelines. There were four basics that were accomplished by the MWTA:
    • Defining medical waste and determining which wastes to regulate.
    • Creating a cradle-to-grave method of tracking medical waste.
    • Establishing a list of standards for segregating, packaging, labeling, and storing medical waste.
    • Creating a system of requirements for record-keeping and the penalties involved for mismanagement.
  3. Once the 2-year period of the MWTA was done, each state passed individual regulations and laws that were close in similarity to MWTA for governing. Each state works with various federal agencies to ensure compliance for regulation and disposal.
  4. Costs associated with regulated medical waste disposal is quite a bit higher than dealing with regular trash disposal. Regulated medical waste considerations for compliance requires specific containment, storage, transportation, and treatment. The cost is over 2,000 times the cost of disposing of regular trash.
  5. U.S. hospitals produce over 5.9 million tons of medical waste each year. This number is based on a configuration of 33 lbs of waste from each staffed hospital bed each day. This number doesn’t include the medical waste produced by other medical and small generator facilities such as standard medical, veterinary, dental, pharmacy, home care, nursing homes, funeral homes, tattoo parlors, and coroners.
  6. Sharps are defined as any item that can pierce the skin and may contain transmittable diseases. Sharps may be the most highly identified regulated waste, however, other regulated medical waste includes anything that contains blood or specifically defined body fluids referred to as OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) or anything that is saturate with OPIM or blood.
  7. The federal agencies that work to regulate medical waste handling in the pre-defined cradle-to-grave responsibility include: OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), DOT (Department of Transportation), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), USPS (United States Postal Service, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  8. DOT requirements for the preparation and transport of medical waste include certified training of staff for all procedures every 2 years. There may be additional state training required that involves proof of certification annually for OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens training which includes medical waste handling by employees.
  9. All items contaminated with blood or OPIM must be handled, stored, and disposed of safely. Some medical waste may not have contamination levels high enough to be considered as medical waste. Others are regulated medical waste and must be stored in designated containers for disposal.
  10. Medical waste disposal is accomplished in a few ways that include: Incineration, autoclaving (steam sterilization). The resulting product or residue must be considered harmless. In some cases, the metals or plastics left can be recycled.

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