Medical Waste and How to Manage It
Medical centers, hospitals and veterinary clinics in the United States generate over one million tons of waste each year. Although the majority of this waste is as harmless as common household waste, as much as 15 percent of this waste poses a potential infection hazard, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Medical waste, also referred to as clinical waste, has to be handled and disposed of in a proper manner to reduce the possibility of injury or infection. Federal and state laws govern the disposal of medical waste, mandating specific methods to either package or sterilize the waste so that the waste does not affect people, animals, or the environment in negative ways.
Like hazardous waste, medical waste can pose danger if exposed to the general public or environment in an untreated form. Different types of medical waste pose different risks. Engineers, scientists, and industrial hygienists have some up with a variety of methods to process medical waste. The design process takes into account the expected nature of the waste; one or more treatments can be applied before ultimate disposal.
Waste generators are grouped into two categories: Small Quantity Generators (SQG) and Large Quantity Generators (LQG), based on the amount of medical waste produced monthly. LQGs produce at least 200 pounds per month; they generally are nursing homes, clinics, health departments, or laboratories. Physicians, dentists and veterinarians in private practice are more often SQGs.
The processes for disposing of medical waste came under scrutiny in the 1980s after a few highly publicized incidents (e.g. medical waste washing up on beaches on the east coast of the United States). These incidents prompted the U.S. Congress to pass The Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 and to publish < href="http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/medical/mwpdfs/rx/toc.pdf">Finding the Rx for Managing Medical Waste. Although the EPA provides baseline regulations, most requirements for the treatment and disposal for medical waste are dictated by the individual states. There has been movement in Congress to authorize the EPA to track medical waste nationwide and outline management techniques, but this legislation did not pass.