Laboratories are mandated to follow specific rules regarding industry specific waste disposal. Several hundred thousand people are working in laboratories, which are places where myriad chemicals and biological agents are handled everyday – some of which are hazardous to health or even life-threatening. Since workers have a right to a safe workplace, special measures must be instituted by laboratories for safety. Furthermore, laboratories of all types generate waste materials that can be an immediate threat to the environment. As a result, you should pay special attention to your laboratory waste to make sure it is being disposed of properly.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formulated guidelines specifically for laboratories. In all honesty, these waste disposal guidelines are long and boring so we will just condense the important bits here.
Guidelines on chemicals
Laboratories are rife with chemicals, some of which can cause burns, inhalation injuries, eye irritation or are carcinogenic (causes cancer). Chemicals must be clearly marked for easy identification during storage, usage and disposal. Reduce waste chemicals by reducing scale of operations, reusing surplus materials or by recycling if possible.
Waste containers for chemicals must be labeled, compatible, sealable, regularly inspected and away from electricity, explosives and sources of heat and conductivity. The disposal of chemical waste from laboratories must emphasize isolation and the prevention of leaks. The collection of chemical laboratory waste must be done regularly and proper eye, skin and respiratory protection must be used every time chemicals are handled or disposed. These protective devices should preferably be single-use only, and must be disposed afterwards as hazardous waste.
The chemical waste from labs must be strictly segregated and disposed separately. Care is taken not to mix chemicals together that would cause unnecessary and possibly dangerous reaction. Then the waste contractor chooses to dispose the waste in a way that makes it more stable and less likely to leak to the environment in compliance to local and federal guidelines.
Final disposal methods for lab chemical waste include:
- Supercompaction, which reduce volume of waste
- Incineration to turn the waste into less harmful ash
- Solidification in cement, asphalt or polymers for liquid waste
- Impregnating liquid waste in porous silica or vermiculite
- Amalgamation of mercury waste with copper or zinc
- Chemical oxidation, to make the chemicals less reactive
- Biological treatment which uses microbes to break down waste
Materials in contact with body fluids (including blood, pus, semen, plasma, saliva, urine, vaginal fluids, and amniotic fluid) are considered infectious, and must be disposed apart from ordinary waste. These include, but not limited to linens, glassware, sharps (more below), used intravenous equipment, spills, biopsy and lab samples, gross blood and tissue, bandages, aspirates and amputated body parts. These items may contain infectious pathogens that cause disease, so proper and safe disposal is a must.
The goal in disposal of infectious laboratory waste is to kill disease causing microbes so it can be processed as ordinary waste.
Disposal methods for infectious lab waste include:
- Steam sterilization, which subjects waste to pressurized steam for a certain period of time
- Incineration, which kills all microbes and reduces the waste into ash
- Thermal inactivation, a process done for waste with specific pathogens which uses exposure to heat (often lower than in incineration) for an extended period of time
- Gas/vapor sterilization, subjects the waste to
Laboratories generate lots of waste that are termed sharps. Lab items including used scalpels, broken glassware and ceramics, needles, syringes, lancets and used auto injectors are considered sharps. These items used in contact with body fluids and can still because puncture wounds and cuts even when dull. Because they might harbor blood-borne diseases and have potential for injury, sharps from the lab must be disposed apart from other types of lab waste.
All used sharps from the lab must be disposed immediately from the moment they are formed to prevent further harm; waste containers must be located at the vicinity where sharps are used. Sharps must be handled using devices like tongs or forceps whenever possible. Containers for lab sharps waste must be solid, leak-proof and sealable. Waste containers for lab waste sharps must be clearly marked as well.
Incineration is often a choice for laboratory waste sharps. Incineration reduces the volume of sharps waste and renders the infectious material inert. The resulting ash can then be disposed in landfills.
The good thing is that US Bio-Clean offers medical waste disposal services for laboratories that fully comply with OSHA guidelines. US Bio-Clean promotes safe, high-value and complete handling and disposal of laboratory waste that complies with local and OSHA disposal guidelines. Give us a call and we will handle your laboratory waste problems at a low-cost.