Americans generate about 254 million tons of solid waste, or about 4.4 pounds per person according to the US EPA. By contrast, US hospitals generate approximately 6 million tons annually. While a majority of medical waste can be classified as nonhazardous, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 15% falls into the hazardous waste category, triggering 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.
A wide-range of organizations produce medical waste, from tattoo parlors and doctor’s office to major hospitals, research facilities, and blood banks. The most common types of medical waste generated by these facilities include radioactive waste, pathological waste, and infectious waste. Sharps, like needles and syringes, are also considered hazardous waste.
Identifying the Risks
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, waste handlers, and those working at recycling or landfill facilities. Also, improper handling of medical waste can result in contamination of the local environment, including the ground, air, and local watershed.
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 and need to be collected via red bags for processing and disposal.
For pharmaceuticals, liquids, and chemicals, 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, and residue from antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals often appear in municipal water supplies.
Radioactive waste, like those produced by chemotherapy treatment, can cause headaches, dizziness, and vomiting at small doses. Handling highlight radioactive waste can also lead to more severe injuries, including burns and the extreme destruction of tissue resulting in amputation. As like with other medical waste, radioactive materials also have the potential to contaminate the environment, including the air, water, and soil.
Safe and Secure Medical Waste Disposal
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, who fails to follow federal, state, and local regulations, faces the risk of legal liability and other penalties. Improper medical waste disposal could result in exposure to lawsuits as well as charges of malpractice or malfeasance. Finally, for health care providers, dealing with the stigma of improper medical waste disposal can lead to ruined employment opportunities and professional ruin.
According to WHO, 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 on the hazards of improper medical waste removal and disposal can help keep organizations compliant. In addition, waste management professionals must continuously monitor operations and work diligently to keep their waste management system running smoothly and efficiently.
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 ‘s hard to stay current on all the requirements and protocols. Also, medical waste generators are often required to contract their waste management to third parties in order to remain compliant with HIPAA and other regulations, leaving many organizations at the mercy of their waste management provider.
With almost three decades of experience in waste management and disposal, MCF Environmental provides the expertise and capabilities you need to properly handle your medical waste. MCF Environmental virtually eliminates all of the challenges that come with medical waste disposal. We provide a proactive, not reactive, approach to waste management for small business, and we cover the essentials so you can spend less time worrying about the details and more time growing your business. We understand the risk, financial restraints, and budgetary challenges associated with medical waste, and we know that, when done right, professional waste management can help businesses streamline operations and maximize profits.
Contact us today to learn more about MCF’s High-Standard Biomed Disposal Process.
Medical Waste, EPA, https://www.epa.gov/rcra/medical-waste
Health-care Waste, World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs253/en/
Health impacts of healthcare waste, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/medicalwaste/020to030.pdf