Risks of Improperly Disposing Medical Waste

Risks of Improperly Disposing Medical Waste

Proper medical waste disposal carries a high priority in the medical industry. Many of the waste items can be considered as hazardous due to toxic and infectious contents. All staff should be aware of and compliant with all medical and hazardous waste regulations as the consequences for mishandling can be devastating in a variety of ways. There is around 254 million tons of solid waste medical wastegenerated in the U.S. each year by individuals and 6 million tons of medical waste generated by hospitals every year. WHO (World Health Organization) has indicated that around 15% of the waste is categorized as hazardous. The most common medical waste that is generated by healthcare facilities include: pathological waste, radioactive waste, and infectious waste. Specific equipment called “sharps” are also considered as hazardous waste and these include such items as syringes, needles disposable scalpels and blades. Healthcare staff education and training protocols have been created for the management and disposal of medical waste in an effort to protect people, the community, and the planet.

Exposure can bring risks of injury or death

Medical waste covers an array of potentially hazardous items that can include but are not limited to biohazards, sharps, pharmaceuticals, and blood-borne pathogens. When humans are exposed to any of these items due to mishandling they risk contamination that can run from potential injury and infection all the way to death.  The exposure to infectious pathogens in medical waste can occur in skin punctures, ingestion, and inhalation, allowing such infections to spread as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, antibiotic resistant E.coli, COVID-19, and other bacteria and viruses that are considered to be dangerous and/or lethal.

Environmental Pollution

The guidelines that have been established by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [RCRA] Laws and Regulations) are very specific in proper disposal of medical waste. Mishandling, especially when it comes to radioactive waste, toxins, and blood-borne pathogens, can pollute the community and the environment via air, water, and soil. Landfills do not have the ability to contain potential contagions and a breach of compliance can involve fines and punishments for even the smallest of infraction. Pharmaceutical chemicals, liquids, and improperly handled waste can enter the water system and many waste management companies may not be set up to filter for these types of contaminants. Any residue from medical waste can disrupt natural ecosystems and continue the process of contamination into the community.

Devastating Legal Consequences

Adherence to local, state, and federal guidelines include OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) compliance. The laws of handling medical waste have been established for the protection of individuals, communities, and the environment. The lack of adherence can create legal difficulties and fines. The healthcare facility may find themselves liable for any and all injuries or infections due to mishandling of medical waste. The cost of dealing with lawsuits can be so high that even malpractice insurance will not cover for this type of negligence and can potentially result in the closure of the practice or other possible legal actions.