01   /  Alarming statistics on the rise

Recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that approximately 292.4 tons of solid waste was produced in the U.S. as of 2018 . The volume of medical waste produced by a hospital bed on a daily basis averages 29 pounds , emphasizing the need to develop more sustainable options when it comes to medical waste management and disposal processes.

While a majority of medical waste can be classified as non-hazardous, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 15% falls into the hazardous waste category, each of which triggers a particular set of protocols for its management and disposal.

In order to minimize the health risks associated with exposure to these potentially infectious materials, physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers must take every precaution when managing and disposing of all medical waste.

02   /   Health risks of non-compliant medical waste management

Health risks of improper medical waste management, especially poor handling of biohazard waste, can negatively affect human health. Such dangers include transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, viral or bacterial infections, and exposure to toxins, such as those from non-compliant disposal of chemotherapy medications or other pharmaceuticals.

Needlestick injuries caused by improper sharps disposal also increases the risk of injury or illness not only to healthcare professionals, but anyone who comes into contact with such waste.

Long-term damage to the environment is another risk that can and does affect soil, waterways, lakes and rivers throughout the country.

A wide-range of organizations produce medical waste, from tattoo parlors and doctor's offices to major hospitals, dialysis and cancer treatment and research facilities. The most common types of medical waste generated by these facilities include radioactive waste, biological and pathological waste, and infectious waste. Sharps, like needles and syringes, are also considered hazardous waste.

03   /   Importance of accurate paperwork!

While healthcare professionals are mostly likely to be exposed to improperly handled medical waste, every individual who comes into contact with infectious waste throughout the waste stream are vulnerable, including administrative staff, nurses, physicians, housekeepers, janitorial service workers, and the waste transport handlers. Employees working at recycling or landfill facilities are also at risk.

The greatest concern regarding improperly handled medical waste involves exposure to infectious pathogens. Those exposed to medical waste can be infected through punctures of the skin, as well as through inhalation or ingestion. While HIV and Hepatitis B and C present the greatest risk, antibiotic resistant E.coli and other dangerous bacteria can also be sources of infection. Because of the potential for sharps to transfer pathogens via cuts or abrasion, blades, hypodermic needles, and other similar materials are considered as a higher level of danger. Sharps must be collected in compliant sharps containers, and biohazard waste must be collected in red bags or containers for safe processing and disposal.

Non-compliant disposal of pharmaceuticals, liquids, and chemicals, and other improperly handled waste can result in burns, poisoning, intoxication, and environmental contamination. Chemical residues found in the sewer systems of many major cities can lead to the disruption of natural ecosystems.

Residue from antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals often appear in municipal water supplies. Most municipal waste water treatment plants cannot completely sift out pharmaceutical components, which increases risk to humans and aquatic life. The most common pharmaceutical components found in samplings includes thyroid hormone modulators, anti-hypertensive medications, anti-inflammatory medicine components and reproductive modulators.

Radioactive waste, like those produced by chemotherapy treatment, can cause headaches, dizziness, and vomiting even in small doses. Handling radioactive waste can also lead to more severe injuries, including burns and the extreme destruction of tissue. As with other medical waste, radioactive materials also have the potential to contaminate the environment, including the air, water, and soil.

04   /   Best Practices for Medical Waste Management

For most organizations, the complexity involved in the collection, transportation, and processing of medical waste can feel overwhelming. With regulations constantly changing, it is often difficult for waste generators to stay current on all the requirements and protocols.

Medical waste generators are often required to outsource their waste management and disposal practices to professional medical or hazardous waste management companies. Reputable companies follow regulations and best practices for medical waste management.

In doing so, waste generators must also comply with regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in order to remain compliant. Without careful oversight and trust in such waste management companies, a waste generator may not only find themselves at the mercy of their waste management provider, but facing potential fines and penalties for non-compliance.

While the health consequences associated with improperly managed medical waste can be severe, other areas of concern also exist. Any organization or facility generating medical waste that fails to follow federal, state, and local regulations faces the risk of legal liability and other penalties than can exceed $50,000 per day per violation, not to mention exposure to lawsuits or charges of malpractice or malfeasance. Finally, for health care providers, dealing with the stigma of improper medical waste disposal can lead to professional ruin.

Because of the severe consequences associated with exposure to medical waste, it is important to minimize risks and follow proper protocols. Educating doctors, hospitals, and healthcare workers of the hazards of improper medical waste handling, removal, and disposal helps organizations stay in compliance.

With almost three decades of experience in waste management and disposal, MCF Environmental Services provides the expertise and capabilities you need to properly handle your medical waste. We understand the risk, financial restraints, and budgetary challenges associated with medical waste. When done right, a professional waste management company like ours can help you streamline operations and maximize profits.

Robert Losurdo

President, COO