The Effects of Medical Waste

What Is Medical Waste?

Medical waste refers simply to any waste that is produced in a medical facility. This includes hospitals, doctor's offices, nursing homes and a number of other locations. More generally, the term refers to waste that produced in the medical treatment of animals, humans included. There are also different classifications within the field of medical waste. Some are bio-waste, biological hazards and "sharpies" (items such as syringes and other objects that can puncture the skin).

Direct Effects

Medical waste, because of its source, in many cases, presents a direct and immediate threat if it is not properly disposed of. Large amounts of this waste have dangerous pathogens in the waste at the time of disposal. This may be the result of the waste being from an individual that is infected. These pathogens can then breed in the waste and possibly infect animals that forage through the trash or contaminate the environment, including ground water and food sources. Another factor is the large quantities of grave pathogens present in hospitals and other health care facilities. When otherwise sanitary waste comes in contact with pathogens already in the environment, it may become a breeding ground for those pathogens.

Indirect Effects

Medical waste, especially biological waste, can become the breeding ground for pathogens that weren't present at the time the waste was discarded. Though these wastes may be human tissue or blood, since they are no longer in the body, the body's immune functions are not present to keep pathogen populations in check. This can result in population explosions of pathogens that live on human tissue and blood. These populations may develop to sufficient quantities or mutate into forms that our immune systems cannot suppress. These populations could infect other animals that forage in waste, or they may contaminate the environment, including water and food sources.

Management of Medical Waste

The proper management of medical waste is necessary to ensure that neither these direct or indirect negative effects ever occur. Proper management of medical waste includes separating materials to protect the waste workers against possible infection. By separating the items when they were made and placed into waste receptacles, it prevents the need to sort through waste products and provides a way to determine what personal protective equipment is necessary when handling the waste.
The intention of waste management is to reduce the risk of individuals being infected or harmed. In some instances, it may be necessary to destroy the waste. In other cases, sterilization may be an option. Each facility should have a comprehensive plan for the management of its waste. These plans should be in accordance with the laws and regulations that apply.

Reporting Waste

If you see improper waste disposal or waste that is abandoned somewhere that it should not be, you should contact the proper authorities. The potential of risk that medical waste poses is something we all should work together to reduce. Do not handle medical waste yourself. Your local authorities should have information regarding who to contact. Waste of all sorts can have negative effects, not only on the environment that it is disposed of in, but also directly and indirectly on the life that surrounds the environment. Medical waste often presents the greatest risk of any waste. This is a result of the possibility of pathogens in the waste and role it can play for pathogens that are introduced later.