Where Does Biohazardous Waste Go?
If you have spent any time in a hospital or doctor’s office, you are probably familiar with the term biohazardous waste and the bright red bags silently signaling: Handle with care. But what exactly is biohazardous waste? Where does hazardous waste go once it is collected? What are risks and consequences associated with improper biohazardous waste disposal?
Understanding Biohazardous Waste
Biohazardous waste is defined as any biological waste that contains potentially infectious waste and does not only occur in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Hazardous waste can be found anywhere that human blood, fluids, tissues, or byproducts are present – the scene of a violent crime, industrial accident, suicide, or trauma. Examples of biohazardous waste include:
- Human body fluids. Amniotic fluid, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions, pleural fluid.
- Microbiological wastes. Specimen cultures, discarded live viruses, blood that contains infectious pathogens, disposable culture dishes, and devices used to transfer cultures.
- Human blood products. Plasma, blood, and other body fluids or tissues containing blood.
- Pathological waste. Human organs, tissues, and body parts.
- Animal waste. Animal carcasses and body parts.
- Sharps waste. Scalpels, needles, glass slides, glass pipettes, and broken glass that have all been contaminated with potentially infectious material.
Where Does Hazardous Waste Go?
The United States Congress enacted the Medical Waste Tracking Act in 1988 to develop studies assessing and analyzing medical waste disposal. One study during the MWTA concluded that sharps wastes constituted the largest volume of medical wastes followed by blood and body fluids.
Biohazardous waste must be collected by a licensed biohazardous waste hauler. Biohazardous waste disposal is closely monitored and regulated in most states. Common disposal methods include:
- Incineration: According to the EPA, 90% of biohazardous waste is incinerated. Incineration can occur either on-site or off-site by licensed contractors that specialize in handling infectious materials. Incineration has the benefit of reducing waste volume, sterilizing, and eliminating the need for pre-processing the waste before treatment and has been found to be effective in neutralizing potentially infectious agents. Incinerator waste is disposed of in a sanitary landfill.
- Autoclaves: Autoclaving, or steam sterilization, is the most dependable procedure for the destruction of all forms of microbial life. Much of the waste treated by autoclaving and shredding ends up at the sanitary landfill.
- Other methods: Mechanical/chemical disinfection, microwave treatments, and irradiation.
Improper Biohazard Waste Disposal
One should never attempt to dispose of biohazardous waste. Improper disposal can be life threatening. In addition, noncompliance can result in strict penalties for each offense of improper disposal of biohazardous waste with significant financial ramifications.
In the case of a homicide, suicide, or serious accident where significant blood has been spilled, a bioremediation company can help clean up the scene, dispose of the waste, and thoroughly sanitize the area. Since 1996, Aftermath has provided professional and compassionate services to families dealing with the death of a loved one due to suicide, homicide, or industrial accidents and has handled a wide range of situations including blood cleanup and communicable disease sanitation.