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Medical Waste versus Biohazard

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Medical Waste versus Biohazard

Medical waste is an overall umbrella term that includes many categories, including biohazardous waste. Medical waste is considered to be any form of waste that is the result of medical treatment, research, or diagnosis. Not all medical waste is considered to be dangerous, yet some categories, including biohazardous waste is considered to be potentially toxic. Each category and subcategory of medical waste has specific protocols for handling, containment, storage, transport, and disposal. Unregulated medical waste can be treated as standard waste, whereas regulated medical waste (RMW) requires that a generator comply with the local, state, and federal guidelines for treatment and ultimate disposal. 

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) as well as other agencies involved in establishing laws and guidelines have used the term RMW (regulated medical waste) as a description for any item that contains potentially infectious materials (OPIM), including enough blood that could have bloodborne pathogens that could be potentially infectious. Since each state has created their own laws/guidelines, states may vary on terms of RMW including: regulate medical waste, biomedical waste, or infectious waste.

Medical Waste Types:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established specific definitions and categories for solid medical waste:

WHO (The World Health Organization) has a bit more details when it comes to medical waste categories:

Non-Regulated Medical Waste:

There are quite a few medical waste materials that surprisingly fall into the non-regulated category. These are typically items that are used in treatment but don’t contain enough or any potentially infectious agents. Even items containing urine, feces, sweat, and saliva do not fall into the OPIM category.

Each state has specific definitions and protocols for the handling and destruction of RMW and non-regulated medical waste, and some states may differ. Some examples of non-regulated medical waste can include but are not limited to:

Regulated Medical Waste Categories

Most states recognize the seven types of regulated medical waste (RMW) with specific guidelines for handling, labeling, storing, and destruction of the waste:

Subcategories of Regulated Medical Waste

In addition to the standard seven categories of RMW, there are subcategories that include:

Biohazardous Waste

There is specific criteria established to act as a definition for biohazardous waste. The criteria includes:

1} Waste from laboratories or research facilities that include but are not limited to:

2} Tissues or specimens of humans removed during surgery or autopsy that may be contaminated with agents that are infectious or are known to be contagious to humans.

3}Animal carcasses, fluids, body parts, or fluid that is suspected to have contamination with agents that are infectious and are known to be contagious to humans.

4}Waste that is recognizable as fluid blood, products of fluid blood, containers or any equipment that contains blood in fluid or animal blood that is known to be infected with diseases that are highly communicable to human beings.

CDC Levels of Biohazardous Waste

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has defined four levels of biohazardous waste.

Examples of Biohazardous Waste

Biohazardous Waste Handling

Due to the critical nature of biohazardous waste, each state as well as the federal government has established guidelines and laws for the proper handling, labeling, transport, and disposal of this type of waste. While many states have similar rules, some differ. A licensed, trained and certified medical waste disposal company is knowledgeable of all laws for compliance and will supply certification of destruction to the generator.

Standard procedure for any waste that is soaked with bodily fluids or blood is to separate the materials and discard in the appropriate biohazard container for these items. Containers and red bags are labeled with the universal biohazard label. All bags and containers must have the ability to be completely sealed.

Sharps are any object that can pierce the skin that may have been contaminated with infectious agents. These are disposed of in containers designed for sharps immediately after they are used. Containers are only 2/3 filled to avoid accidents. Containers and bags must be puncture-proof, leak-proof, and spill-proof and be completely sealed.

Biohazardous waste such as specimens and culture media are usually placed into vacuum flasks that are non-breakable and leak-proof. The flasks as listed as overflow flasks as they have HEPA filters.

Solid biohazardous waste can be generated in any part of the healthcare environment including a laboratory, surgery center, or the room of a patient. Solid biohazardous waste is anything that has the potential for contamination with materials that are biologically infectious. This was is placed in a leak-proof, sturdy container with biohazardous bags that are marked with the universal label and completely sealed.

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