Treating Infectious Waste
There are specific methods designed to treat infectious waste so that the contents are no longer a threat to people, the community, animals, or the environment. The guidelines set up for each type of infectious waste involve safety protocols for storage types and safe elimination of anything that may be considered to be an agent or have come in contact with an agent that could be infectious to humans While there are federal guidelines, there are also additional state and local laws that must be complied with for the treatment of infectious waste. Each waste type is segregated and stored in specific container types so that they can be easily identified, treated, and disposed of properly. The containers/packaging of all infectious waste is typically color coded and contains a large external universal “biohazard” symbol. Unless there is a licensed treatment and disposal facility in-house, infectious waste is required to be picked up and disposed of by a licensed and certified medical waste disposal company.
All facilities that have infectious wastes are responsible for the proper disposal, treatment and ultimate destruction of all items that could be or have been contaminated in a condition called “cradle to grave.” This means that each type of infectious waste must have a paper trail of confirmation of the type of destruction, even when picked up by a licensed, certified medical waste disposal company. The company is responsible for supplying validating that all infectious waste has been disposed of in compliance with local, state and federal guidelines
Types of infectious waste treatments:
- Chemical Decontamination is the use of gaseous or liquid chemicals as part of the treatment process of infectious waste. The liquid chemicals may be used as an intermediate step during the storage and/or transport of infectious waste and may involve but are not limited to the addition of phenolic disinfectants, iodophors, or chlorine bleach. Gaseous decontamination methods are used on items within an environment that may have been exposed to infectious waste.
- Autoclaving is the process used for decontamination of such items as sharps and cultures. Autoclaving involves placing the infectious waste inside closed chambers and then applying heat and possibly steam and pressure over an extended period of time. The autoclave process sterilizes the items placed inside as it destroys the microorganisms that would have had a potential to spread the infectious waste. Once done, the residual can be disposed of in a landfill as they are considered to be chemical free.
- Incinerating is the process of placing the contaminated items that are in their containers inside a specially designed and approved incinerator where high levels of heat are applied. This form of treatment is used for larger items such as body parts. A majority of the current incinerators have a primary and secondary combustion zone or chamber so that the burners make sure that there is sufficient heat over an extended period of time to reduce the infectious waste to ash. Some incinerators also used a combination of heat and gas to complete the process. The high temperatures destroy all pathogens and the residual ash can then be safely disposed of in a landfill as it is considered to be chemical free.