While the description of the philosophy of hazardous waste disposal as ‘cradle-to-grave’ may have a grim sound, it actually explains the process very clearly when you are talking about hazardous waste. The increased quantity that is generated from many industries, has created a challenge for officials and communities to keep the land and the public safe. The title ‘cradle-to-grave’ reflects from the time that the waste is created, during transportation, treatment, storage and then finally, disposal.
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When it comes to medical biohazardous waste, there are specific guidelines involved for identifying, labeling, packaging and disposing of the waste. Biohazard waste is defined as:
“biomedical, infectious, sharps, clinical medical waste, etc. and that which may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials thus posing a significant risk of transmitting infection to humans or harming the environment.”
WHO (The World Health Organization) has listed the following critical facts as to the importance of attention to this waste topic:
- Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste.
- The remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive.
- Every year an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide, but not all of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards.
- Health-care waste contains potentially harmful microorganisms, which can infect hospital patients, health workers and the general public.
- Health-care waste in some circumstances is incinerated, and dioxins, furans and other toxic air pollutants may be produced as emissions.
There are strict guidelines as to the methods of identifying, labeling, packaging and ultimate disposal as it relates to: animal carcasses and animal waste, solid lab waste – aka dry biohazardous, pathological (human anatomical specimens), liquid biohazardous waste, sharps (hypodermic needles, needles with syringes or tubing, blades, and all glassware if contaminated with infectious, potentially infectious, or genetically modified materials), and other types of waste which can include radioactive, plastic tissue-culture pipettes, chemically-contained waste, and even mixtures that incorporate body parts, chemical/radioactive, etc.
WHO has also listed the importance of attention to hazardous elements as health risks:
- Health-care waste contains potentially harmful microorganisms which can infect hospital patients, health workers and the general public. Other potential infectious risks may include the spread of drug-resistant microorganisms from health facilities into the environment.
- Health risks associated with waste and by-products also include:
- radiation burns;
- sharps-inflicted injuries;
- poisoning and pollution through the release of pharmaceutical products, in particular, antibiotics and cytotoxic drugs; and
- poisoning and pollution through waste water; and by toxic elements or compounds such as mercury or dioxins that are released during incineration.
Sharps alone are an important topic, as there are around sixteen billion injections administered around the world every year. The requirement of proper disposal of syringes and needles reduce risk of injury and infections.
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