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Medical waste, which can include potentially infectious bodily fluids, used needles, and dangerous chemicals among other things, can pose a serious threat both to public health and to the environment. New Orleans, with its low elevation and already polluted waterways, is especially vulnerable to a public health crisis if medical waste is not disposed of safely. In order to keep the city safe and remain in compliance with federal and state regulations, most healthcare, veterinary, and medical research facilities in New Orleans entrust their waste to a licensed medical waste disposal company.
Federal And State Regulations
Medical waste disposal in New Orleans is regulated by three different agencies: the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates the disposal of infectious waste; the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, which stipulates how medical waste must be packaged, stored, transported, and ultimately, disposed of; and finally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency which imposes specific rules on the treatment of blood-borne pathogens. By employing medical waste disposal companies, medical facilities can both comply with federal and state regulations and also protect the safety of their employees.
What Constitutes Medical Waste
Medical waste refers to any potentially infectious or dangerous waste material generated by any type of health care, veterinary, or medical research facility. First of all, any type of bodily fluid or body part, such as an organ or limb that has been removed, is a form of medical waste that must be contained and disposed of safely. In addition, when a soft disposable material such as an exam glove, a bandage, an exam table cover, a paper gown, or a swab has been in contact with any type of bodily fluid, it is considered contaminated and must also be treated as a biohazard. Sharps are another type of medical waste. These include needles, lancets, and surgical instruments that have been used and discarded. Without proper biohazard sharps container disposal, employees are at serious risk of injury and infection. Drugs, radioactive chemicals, and containers that have held them can also pose a risk to the public and must be disposed of safely. These are just a few examples of the items that biohazard waste disposal companies take care of on a regular basis.
The General Process Of Disposal
The process of biohazard waste disposal involves the following steps: collection and storage, transportation, and treatment or disposal. The handling of medical waste is highly regulated by OSHA and state agencies to ensure the safety of workers as well as safe containment of hazardous materials. Materials must be separated into categories (e.g., infectious waste, sharps, and chemical waste) and then placed into appropriate containers, such as a red biohazard bag or a puncture-proof sharps container. Containers must be labeled with specific information that includes the type and amount of waste in the container, a standard international symbol to identify the type of waste, the name of the facility where the waste was generated, and the date when it was packaged.
Once medical waste has been packaged and labeled, it can be transported to a waste disposal facility. Facilities that generate large amounts of waste, like hospitals, typically prefer to employ a service that will pick up and transport the waste. Vehicles that transport hazardous waste must be specifically designed to hold and protect their cargo, with a locked cargo compartment and appropriate equipment for safely cleaning an accidental spill. Smaller facilities that generate less waste may prefer a service that accepts medical waste shipped via the U.S. Postal Service. When the waste material reaches the facility, it will be treated or disposed of in one of several ways, depending on the type of waste.
Medical Waste Disposal Techniques
One of the most common methods of treating medical waste is incineration, which involves using very high heat to destroy any organic pathogens that are present. This method converts the waste material to gas or ash, which may need further treatment before it can be released into the environment. Incineration is highly effective in killing all types of viruses and bacteria; however, it can harm the environment by generating carcinogenic chemicals as well as toxic heavy metals when materials are not incinerated sufficiently or when the wrong materials, such as plastics, are burned.
Autoclaving is one of the most popular methods of treating non-organic waste, such as sharps and test tubes. An autoclave is a machine found in most laboratories, and it uses high-pressure, very hot steam to sterilize equipment. When plastics are autoclaved, they are generally melted down completely and recycled. This method is not recommended for pathological waste. Another disposal method that involves heat is micro-waving wet waste (water is added if dry) to a high enough temperature to kill organic material.
A method of treatment and disposal that doesn’t require heat is a chemical treatment that uses bleach and other chemicals not only to kill pathogens but also to change the chemical structure of the waste so that it is rendered non-hazardous. All of these methods, except for incineration, allow for the possibility of recycling materials.
Risks Of Improper Disposal Of Medical Waste
Before biohazard disposal was regulated, medical facilities simply packaged medical waste in plastic bags or boxes and threw it out with the rest of the trash. Unfortunately, this led to the spread of many diseases throughout the population. If modern facilities fail to comply with regulations for red biohazard bags disposal or disposal of other biohazard materials, they not only risk endangering the public and their employees, but they will also face legal accountability for any damage caused by their neglect, financial loss in paying for those damages, and a loss of reputation. For these reasons, medical facilities in New Orleans need a licensed and experienced medical waste disposal service that they can rely on.