Hospitals generate 5.9 million tons of medical waste every year. Almost all patient contact has the potential to create medical waste in some form, and all hospital staff are educated on the appropriate methods for storage and disposal of each type of medical waste. Local, state and Federal guidelines are established to ensure that hospital medical waste is properly contained, identified, and disposed of for the protection of people, the community, and the environment.
There are four types of medical waste that can be found in a hospital environment: general, hazardous, radioactive, and infectious. Around 15% of the medical waste is considered to be dangerous and must be handled and disposed of according the laws and guidelines. Some hospitals may be equipped with the proper disposal methods in-house, but it is more common for them to hire medical waste disposal companies.
Every hospital has a designated plan and procedures for the placement of medical waste, storage, and eventual removal for disposal. Each medical waste type is placed in containers or bags that are sealed and identified with appropriate labels. Storage until destruction involves placing the medical waste in a location that will not be available to anyone prior to pick up by a medical waste management company or the in-house staff that is responsible for disposal.
Getting rid of all medical waste requires that it is guaranteed to be nonhazardous through a variety of decontamination processes.
There are three major methods of disposal for hospital medical waste that is considered to be dangerous. Both processes involve the use of closed chambers.
Incineration is used for treatment of surgical and chemical wastes. This process involves a controlled burning of all waste in a high temperature incinerator, and according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), is used for around 90% of surgical wastes. There are some state laws that don’t allow the use of incineration and have alternative guidelines for this form of medical waste. The remaining ash left after incineration is no longer a danger and can be placed in a landfill.
Auto-Claving is a process involving pressure and heat up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of about one hour. In some situations steam is used. Auto-claving kills all microorganisms that may be found within the medical waste and allows the remains to be removed and placed as non-dangerous items in a landfill. However, items such as sharps must go through an additional step of shredding, grinding or destruction so that they don’t pose harm to anyone.
Chemical agent are used for biohazardous waste. The process involves exposing the waste to some form of chemical such as chlorine compounds so that the waste will no longer be infectious. Certain items that include specific types of metals cannot be placed for chemical agent processing as the addition of chlorine can cause damages such as becoming combustible or giving off other lethal substances. In those cases, they must be disposed of using the incineration process.
Parent page – Medical Waste Disposal
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