There are four categories of waste. Each form is separated, identified, sterilized and recycled appropriately to minimize exposure and risk to the environment and general population.
It is important for healthcare facilities to take caution while handling biohazardous material and that only trained
Biohazard waste is waste that is contaminated with blood or other infectious materials. The infectious materials pose a risk of spreading disease in humans, animals and the environment. Biohazard waste is typically treated in an autoclave process which renders the waste harmless and then it is disposed of. Medical waste can be very confusing, what federal laws apply? What are my local State, City. County requirements? We have put together this handy guide and hope you find it useful.
Do you know how to identify biohazard waste?
Do you know how to properly package this type of waste?
We at MedPro Disposal have put together a useful guide on everything you should know about biohazard waste disposal. From identifying what biohazard waste is to the management, collection, and treatment of it. MedPro Disposal provides all the important facts and answers to your questions.
Biohazard waste is short for biohazardous waste and is also known as biomedical waste. Biohazard waste is any biological waste that is potentially infectious. The Hazard Awareness and Management Manual (HAMM) of Environment Health & Safety (EHS) outlines the types of biohazard waste as follows:
This may be in liquid or semi-liquid form, dried or not.
This may include semen, vaginal secretions, cerebral spinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, and saliva. It may be in liquid or semi-liquid form, dried or not
Further to this list, any medical supplies or other equipment (such as gloves, towels, used bandages and dressings, tubes) that have come into contact with the above mentioned materials and consequently exhibit more than trace elements of these biological materials in them are themselves also classified as biohazard waste.
According to the World Health Organization, of all waste generated by healthcare activities, 85% is general, non-hazardous waste but the remaining 15% is hazardous and may be infectious, toxic, or radioactive. Biomedical waste is generated by:
Biohazard waste can also be present at the scene of a violent crime, industrial accident, trauma, or suicide. [i] [ii]
The lifecycle of the management of biohazard waste is as follows: generation, accumulation, handling, storage, treatment, transport, and disposal. [iii] In the United States, biohazard waste management is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), via Title 40 and Title 29, Subpart H – Hazardous Materials of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), respectively. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) also provides guidelines for the management of biohazard waste. Finally, each state, university, center, company, facility, or organization has its own standards and practices. Discussed in this blog will be the recommendations, guidelines, and standards of the WHO and the United Nations (UN).
The first step in handling biohazard waste is to segregate the various types and place them into suitable containers. This can be done as follows:
1) Low-level radioactive infectious waste (swabs, syringes, etc.) can be included with the rest of the infectious waste provided this is meant for incineration during the biohazard waste disposal phase.
2) If chemical or pharmaceutical waste is small in quantity, it can be collected along with the infectious waste.
3) Highly infectious waste has to be sterilized at high temperatures and under high pressure, a process known as autoclaving, and must be placed in strong containers that can support this process.
If the waste is in decay, the type of radionuclide, the date of packaging, and required storage conditions must be included in the labelling.
All containers’ labels should include a clear description of the waste contained therein along with the appropriate internationally recognized symbols, the quantity of the waste (weight or volume), the name of the facility or organization that generated the waste, and the date of the container’s production; and the labels should comply with all regulations of their local districts and all other applicable regulations. Also, as a general rule, waste bags should only be three quarters (3/4) filled. They should be sealed tightly, and never by stapling, suitable for transport to wherever their final destination, considering all environmental aggressors and normal conditions of handling & transport and some contingencies. And if the biomedical waste needs to be transferred within the facility of the waste producer, the vehicles of transport (wheeled trolleys, carts, etc.) need to be cleaned and disinfected before use, be easy to load / unload, and have no sharp edges that could damage the containers or bags that carry the biomedical waste.
All biohazard waste containers should be stored in an area / room / building separate from non-hazardous materials, appropriate for their contents, their quantities, and the frequency of their collection. Unless the waste is stored in a refrigerated room, for a temperate climate, it should not be stored for more than 72 hours in the winter and 48 hours in the summer, and for a warm climate, no more than 48 hours in the cool months and 24 hours in the hot months. Additionally, the storage facility should adhere to the following recommendations:
Biohazard waste should never be allowed to accumulate by the producer of the waste without a well-established plan for routine collection. Waste should be collected as frequently as possible. No containers should be picked up unless they are properly and completely labelled. The staff of the facility / organization that generated the biohazard waste should promptly replace containers so their own staff always follow safe practices when dumping the waste. And in addition to proper labelling, all arrangements and preparation for safe and steady transport should be made well in advance – dispatch documents, shortest route, fewest handling changes, reliable carrier, and in the case of exportation / importation, all required legal documents, international standards, and local regulations.
The carrier transporting the biohazard waste should be registered with the waste regulation authority, and the biohazard waste disposal company should also hold a permit for their work. The waste should be accompanied by a consignment note from the point of generation to the place of disposal.
Biohazard waste transport vehicles should be closed and locked. They should be designed to minimize the damage to the container holding the bags / containers of biomedical waste. Empty bags and containers suitable for waste being transported, suitable protective clothing for staff, cleaning equipment, and special kits for dealing with spills / leaks should be available in the vehicle compartments. The carrier organization’s name should be clearly visible on the transport vehicles. The international symbol for biohazardous material and / or radioactive material should be displayed on the vehicle along with an emergency telephone number. And if the transportation of the biomedical waste exceeds recommended storage duration limits, a refrigerated container must be used. [iv]
Treatment of biomedical waste is used to reduce or eliminate its hazard to people and the environment. The treatment is performed by biohazard waste disposal companies registered with the regulating authorities of the locale so this is why this process usually doesn’t take place until the very end of the biohazard waste management process. If the treatment and or disposal is not conducted professionally, efficiently, and using modern technology, it can have highly adverse effects on the environment, causing more harm than good. Upon treatment, waste can be transported to a landfill. Treatment is provided to facilitate biohazard waste disposal.
A common method of treatment is called incineration. Incineration is the application of high temperatures to biohazard waste to kill all organic substances (bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens) contained in the waste. Typically, the waste is converted into ash and gas that often needs to be further cleansed before it can be released into the environment. Upon the completion of the process, the biomedical waste is no longer hazardous. This type of treatment is usually conducted in an incineration plant that may even generate electric power from the heat of the incineration.
“Incineration of waste has been widely practiced, but inadequate incineration or the incineration of unsuitable materials results in the release of pollutants into the air and of ash residue. Incinerated materials containing chlorine can generate dioxins and furans, which are human carcinogens and have been associated with a range of adverse health effects. Incineration of heavy metals or materials with high metal content (in particular lead, mercury and cadmium) can lead to the spread of toxic metals in the environment. Only modern incinerators operating at 850-1100 °C and fitted with special gas-cleaning equipment are able to comply with the international emission standards for dioxins and furans.” ii
Another treatment method that can facilitate the biohazard waste disposal process is autoclaving. An autoclave is a strong, highly-pressurized, steam-heated chamber used to sterilize biomedical waste. Autoclaves are also routinely used to sterilize medical supplies. Items such as plastics can be sterilized by autoclaving and completely melted down to ensure they are virtually pathogen-free; they can then be used to make new products.
Yet another method for disinfecting biohazard waste is the use of bleach. Bleaching refers to a process by which certain types of chemicals (often some compound including chlorine) initiate a chemical reaction with the chemicals of the biomedical waste that makes them gain or lose electrons, resulting in a chemical change in the waste, making it non-hazardous.
And finally, alkaline hydrolysis (biocremation and / or resomation) is a funeral home service provided as an alternative to burial or cremation, reducing carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions from the traditional processes.
*The materials available at this website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing any State or Federal Guidelines or any legal advice.
Biohazard waste is generally defined as any waste contaminated with potentially infectious agents or materials that may pose a threat to public health or the environment.
The University of Tennessee provides some examples of solid biohazardous waste. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should give you a general idea of what biohazardous waste is:
As I mentioned above, there are many more biohazardous wastes, especially in laboratory settings, that are not listed. The rule of thumb is if it’s “saturated” with blood or infectious bodily fluids it is biohazardous waste.
Biohazard or infectious waste disposal is generally more expensive than your regular garbage disposal. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is there are many more steps biohazardous waste has to go through before it meets the landfill. Mainly, it has to be sanitized and put into a specialized landfill called a sanitary landfill specially made to stop animals from taking the waste, and to stop water run-off.
Because of this increased cost, it is worth the extra time deciding if the waste you are about to throw away should go into a red bio-bag or the regular garbage.
OSHA provides a more comprehensive list for biohazardous waste regulations, but the shortcut is:
1) Was the item used to hold blood?
2) Is the item saturated or dripping in blood?
3) Could the item be infectious?
4) Did the item come from a contaminated room?
5) Did the item come from a surgical procedure?
If you answer yes to any of the above, it is safe to throw the waste into a red biohazard bag UNLESS it can puncture the bag, in which case it goes into a sharps container.
After a red biohazard bag is filled up, it must be put into another container for transportation. The reason we do this is to 1) comply with local and federal regulations and 2) to stop any leakage or spillage of waste.
Most of the time when a bio bag is full it is put into a specialized cardboard box designed to transport medical waste. Some states, like California, require that the waste is put into a specialized plastic tote. It all depends on the regulations in each state.
This is the easy part! Once the waste is put into the correct container, you simply have your medical waste disposal company come and pick it up. Of course, all of our haulers are trained for proper transportation of waste.
If you’re interested in what happens after the waste is picked up, check out my blog about the journey waste goes through after it’s picked up!
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