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A Complete Guide to Biohazard Waste Disposal

July 16, 2021

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A Complete Guide to Biohazard Waste Disposal

A Complete Guide to Biohazard Waste Disposal. Biohazard waste disposal is the process of safely and legally disposing of medical waste generated by health care facilities, laboratories, and pharmaceutical facilities. Proper disposal of biohazardous waste is one of the most important steps in the medical and healthcare industries. It is a major priority for healthcare institutions to ensure that waste is disposed of properly to protect their employees, the environment, and the public.

Why is Biohazard Waste Disposal So Important?

During 1987-1988 hypodermic syringes washed up and appeared on the shores of beaches in five East Coast states. These syringes had been dumped into the ocean and contained biohazard waste that could have been transmitted to people and was a jolt of awareness for the need to create appropriate and safe methods of biohazard disposal. The federal government began the process of guidelines for biohazard waste handling, storage, and destruction which is now under the governance of each state.

The healthcare industry generates a majority of the biohazard waste and there are strict laws that dictate methods of destruction to avoid transmission of such diseases as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C. Biohazard medical waste is also called biomedical waste, regulated medical waste, and infectious waste and is any waste that is saturated with semi-liquid or liquid blood, or OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) that can infect or potentially infect and/or cause harm to human beings.

There is approximately 2.5 million tons of biohazard waste generated every year. Although most is generated from the hospitals, there are many locations that generate biohazard waste including: funeral homes, pharmacies, physician offices, clinics, veterinarians, research laboratories, coroners, tattoo parlors, and body piercing locations. Proper supervision of handling, storing, and ultimate safe destruction protects staff, customers, the community, and the environment from potentially dangerous disease transmission.

Every location that generates biohazard waste is required to follow compliance guidelines established by local, state, and federal organizations. Some of the organizations involved in compliance laws include OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), FDA (Federal Drug Administration), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), DOT (Department of Transportation, and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Many of these organizations audit the various companies that are involved with biohazard waste to ensure compliance for safe handling, storage, disposal, and employee training. Lack of compliance of any of the laws can result in an organization receiving high-level fines that are often severe enough that they can shut a business down. State agencies will often have additional regulations that vary from state to state regarding such topics as disposal of pathological waste, chemotherapy waste, stocks and cultures, and incineration rule changes for destruction of various biohazard wastes. Every organization that is involved in generating biohazard waste must be completely knowledgeable on all laws and guidelines of local, state, and federal levels.

What Are the Risks of Improperly Disposing of Biohazard Waste?

The dangers involved in improper disposal of biohazard waste cannot be emphasized enough. When biohazard waste is exposed to the general population it can cause a rapid transmission of diseases to humans. When biohazard waste is placed in landfills people, animals, and contamination of the environment occurs. The remnants can seep into the ground and enter to water system, exposing large numbers of people to disease states. Sharps, contaminated blood, and even drugs can create toxic conditions that allow transmittable diseases to expand to individuals. Many water waste management systems are not set up to filter for pharmaceuticals and these drugs can enter potable water that is consumed by people and animals. Without proper handling, segregation, containment, and destruction policies for biohazard waste, diseases can be transmitted beyond control.

Penalties and fines for mishandling of biohazard medical waste can be fierce. To encourage cooperation and compliance, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has increased the penalties for improper handling of medical waste under RCRA. Effective as of 2018, violation of the RCRA laws can result in fines from $22,500 to nearing $93,000, with the assessment of these fines on a daily basis or per violation. This is an example of only one penalty list from one regulatory agency and there are others that can be compounded due to violations of medical waste mishandling. Each state has its own rules for offenses which can range based on whether it is a small or large quantity generator and can include fines and even jail time. Fines can escalate if there are additional infractions or false statements as well as any generator that fails to register according to state guidelines. 

As if the state and federal fines weren’t enough, there are potential legal ramifications that may occur. In the case that biohazard waste contaminates land and water and/or if humans and animals are infected by the biohazard medical waste, there are potential lawsuits from a variety of organizations and individuals that could cause an organization to close down or go bankrupt. Lawsuits can extend for years ruining and organizations reputation and causing injury or loss of life for humans that may have been infected as well as destruction of landfills and waterways.

What is the Difference Between Biohazard and Non-Biohazard Waste?

Waste that is hazardous to humans, animals, and the environment falls into a number of very specific descriptions defined by the federal government. Two types of wastes are biohazard and hazardous wastes, with guidelines designed for identification, handling, labeling, transporting, treatment, and safe disposal of each type.

Hazardous waste has been identified as any form of waste that may contain elements that are dangerous. These elements can include but are not limited to heavy metals, contaminants, chemicals, and radioactive products. Hazardous waste can be in a solid, liquid, or gas form and can be derived from any known or unknown sources such as chemical plants, factories, and industries. Hazardous waste can the environment including soil, water, and air which can then cascade into health problems for living creatures by exposing them through inhalation or consumption. These health problems can be harmful enough to cause long-term illnesses all the way to death.

Biohazardous waste is any form of waste that contains or potentially contains agents that can be infectious to humans, animals, or the environment. Biohazard waste can be in a solid, liquid, or gas state and is waste that can directly affect the existence of living organisms. Most biohazard waste is sourced from medical facilities but there are other locations where biohazard waste can be found.

Biohazard waste is waste that originated from living creatures, hence the “bio” from biological. Hazardous waste is typically sourced from private organizations and companies such as radioactive testing centers and factories but may also be those run by state and federal government organizations. Biohazard waste can have a direct affect on living creatures through infection and contamination, including materials and agents that transmit diseases. In addition, biohazard waste can cause disease states in both human and animal health that can act slowly or quickly, resulting in long-term illnesses and/or death.

Both biohazard and hazardous waste can have long-term affects that can damage the health and lives of living creatures as well as damaging the environment requiring extensive cleanup efforts that may or may not be successful. The harm caused by accidents or illegal situations can result in disastrous conditions.

Biohazardous waste is most commonly transported and disposed of by using a licensed and professional medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management. The biohazard waste is taken to a licensed facility where it is destroyed following all local, state, and federal compliance guidelines so that it is rendered harmless. Some hospital facilities have on-site licensed facilities for the destruction of biohazard waste.

Based on the local, state, and federal rules and the type of hazardous waste, some may be treated by the industry that is generating the waste. The generator of the waste is required to comply with the laws so that it’s properly disposed of and is rendered harmless to people, animals, and the environment.

Types of Biohazardous Waste

Given the dangers of contamination and transmission of potentially dangerous disease states, special attention is required for the handling, storage, transportation, and destruction of biohazardous waste. All containers and bags must have the universal biohazard symbol affixed to the outside and on any inner bags.

Biohazard waste can include but is not limited to:

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

There are many laws and guidelines for compliance in each step of dealing with biohazard waste. A majority of organizations that are generators of biohazard waste have in-house specialists that work with licensed and professional medical waste management companies such as Healthcare Waste Management. A knowledgeable medical waste management company will act as a consultant to review the legal requirements, make recommendations, and assist in compliance requirements. Healthcare Waste Management works with clients to assure that employees are safe with OSHA-approved online training courses, supply FDA-cleared containers and labels, and coordinate scheduled pickups for each type of waste. All clients receive a certificate of destruction as proof in case of audits or legal processes.

Healthcare Waste Management team members are experts in all of the laws of every state serviced, own, service and operate all of our trucks, own and operate all destruction facilities. Every member of our company is employed by Healthcare Waste Management, and we are trained to ensure safety for people and the environment. Our consultants maintain up-to-date information on any changes in rules or laws for both state and federal basis and communicate to our clients to ensure full compliance.

Given the vast amount of information that is required to comply with various laws and the potential damage that can be caused due to accidents, it makes good sense to work with Healthcare Waste Management that specializes in all aspects of handling, storage, transportation, and destruction of medical waste. Healthcare Waste Management offers cost-effective solutions that detail every aspect of dealing with potentially hazardous waste and brings peace of mind to customers.

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