Medical Waste Disposal in the U.S. What You Should Know. Healthcare professionals are on the front line of caring for individuals in need. This often entails working with infectious or potentially infectious materials. These materials include biohazardous waste such as used needles and syringes, as well as Isolation waste such as waste from patients isolated to protect others from communicable disease.
The work these professionals do requires that they work with infectious materials daily.
However, the risk of infection from these materials is high, and the consequences of being exposed to an infectious agent while handling them are serious. In the U.S., healthcare workers are obligated to follow strict protocols to protect both themselves and the public from potential exposure to infectious materials. Here we will discuss the regulations, protocols, and precautions that healthcare workers must follow when handling their medical waste.
What is Medical Waste?
Regulated medical waste (RMW), also known as ‘biohazardous’ waste or ‘infectious medical’ waste, is the portion of the waste stream that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials, thus posing a significant risk of transmitting infection.
There are several key categories of waste that are typically classified as ‘regulated’. Each category typically has special handling requirements that may be state-specific.
Types of Medical Waste
There are six types of medical waste that are commonly regulated. Keep in mind there isn’t a national definition of medical waste, it is left up to each state to determine what it is, and how it is treated.
Pathological waste. Tissues, organs, body parts, and body fluids removed during surgery and autopsy.
Human blood and blood products. Waste blood, serum, plasma, and blood products.
Cultures and stocks of infectious agents (microbiological waste). Specimens from medical and pathology laboratories. Includes culture dishes and devices used to transfer, inoculate, and mix. Also includes discarded live and attenuated vaccines.
Contaminated sharps. Contaminated hypodermic needles, syringes, scalpel blades, Pasteur pipettes, and broken glass.
Isolation waste. Generated by hospitalized patients isolated to protect others from communicable disease.
Contaminated animal carcasses, body parts and bedding. From animals intentionally exposed to pathogens in research, biologicals production, or in vivo pharmaceuticals testing.
What are the Regulations for Medical Waste Disposal?
What are the Regulations for Medical Waste Disposal? Treatment options, technologies are always evolving to treat medical waste. In theory and practice we rely on two basic approaches to sterilization. Infectious organisms can be killed by subjecting them to excessive heat, or by bringing them into contact with chemical agents.
The most popular options include:
Heat treatment includes, steam autoclaves, microwave systems, dry heat and hot air systems, plasma arc.
Chemical agents include chlorine compounds (including hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide), ozone, alkali, other disinfectants (peracetic acid, glutaraldehyde, etc.– typically used for small batches).
Some systems use combinations of these treatments. Incinerators, for example, use both heat and a chemical reaction (oxidation by atmospheric oxygen). Another example is a system that operates at a relatively moderate temperature, which would otherwise leave the waste intact, but that uses alkali to liquefy the waste.
Medical Waste Management
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Healthcare Environmental Resource Center – Types of Regulated Medical Waste. https://www.hercenter.org/rmw/rmwtypes.php Accessed March 29, 2022.
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