Biohazard Waste – Know Where to Throw
October 25, 2020
Biohazardous waste is some of the most dangerous waste generated, with the potential to infect people, animals, the community, and the ecology. Biohazardous waste is defined as any material that contains potentially infectious waste. Handling and disposal of this waste is critical so that infection and contamination isn’t spread. The federal government, along with local and state governments, have established specific guidelines on proper handling and disposal of biohazardous waste. Compliance with the rules allows the waste to become non-infectious and eliminates the potential for danger with the ultimate goal of depositing the ash and remaining harmless waste in appropriate landfills.
While we might assume that this type of waste occurs only in medical facilities, there are a number of businesses and organizations that have contact with biohazardous waste. These can include but are not limited to: hospitals, clinics, physician’s offices, dentists, veterinarians, coroners, funeral homes, research labs, tattoo parlors, and body piercing businesses. Identifying the types of biohazardous waste is a first step in compliance with the laws.
Types of biohazardous waste can include, but are not limited to:
- Human and animal body fluids.
- Microbiological wastes
- Human blood products
- Animal waste
- Sharps waste (any item that can pierce the skin)
- Pathological waste
Processes to Render Non-Infectious
In 1988 The U.S. Congress enacted the Medical Waste Tracking Act that created studies to analyze and assess disposal of medical waste. The results of the study indicated that wastes from sharps made up the greatest amount of medical wastes, with blood and body fluids coming in as the next highest volume. Federal and state guidelines were established for identification, handling, labeling, storage, transportation, and rendering the waste harmless so that it could be disposed of.
There are a number of methods established to remove the dangers of biohazardous waste:
- Incineration is the process of placing infectious materials in high temperature, high pressure containers for a duration of time that results in the biohazardous waste being reduced to a harmless ash. The Environmental Protection Agency indicated that around 90% of biohazardous waste is incinerated. Incineration must be accomplished by licensed and inspected locations and can be either off-site or on-site. The benefits of incineration include the reduction of the volume of waste, sterilization, removing the requirement of pre-processing the waste prior to treatment, and is the most effective method in neutralizing biohazardous waste. Once the waste has been incinerated it can be safely deposited in a sanitary landfill.
- Autoclaving is also referred to as steam sterilizing and is considered to be the procedure that is the most dependable for destroying microbial life of all forms. Autoclaving makes use of specifically designed machinery that elevates the temperature and pressure, introducing steam to render biohazardous waste harmless. Once the autoclaving process has been successfully completed, the resulting waste can be placed in a sanitary landfill.
- Chemical disinfection involves the addition of specific chemicals to the biohazardous waste. This process is more dangerous as the biohazardous waste cannot contain some forms of waste that could be affected by the chemicals and create other forms of toxins. Chemical disinfection, along with irradiation and microwave treatments may be used for some forms of biohazardous waste but are not considered to be as safe. The resulting waste that occurs after these processes must be tested for safety prior to placing in a sanitary landfill.
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