The impacts of poorly managed medical waste disposal on human health
According to the US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), Americans generate 267.8 million tons of solid wastes or about 4.5 pounds per person. US hospitals generate approximately 6 million tons of solid waste annually.
Most medical waste is non-hazardous, as per WHO (World Health Organization), but there’s 15% of it that falls into the hazardous medical waste category that hospitals produce.
This paved the way for creating protocols and regulations that every hospital management must understand and follow. These regulations and protocols are in place to protect all the healthcare workers in the organization.
But what are the impacts of poor and improper medical waste management on human health? What risks it poses, and why the US EPA strongly emphasizes the importance of the regulations?
Identifying the hazard of medical waste
Not all medical waste is hazardous. According to WHO, there’s 15% of medical waste that falls into a hazardous category. This means there are certain products, items, and objects that are hazardous.
What are these products?
These are radioactive waste, pathological waste, infectious waste, and chemical and pharmaceutical waste. It also considers sharps like needles and syringes as hazardous waste.
Anything that falls into these types of medical waste is hazardous to human health, which is why it’s very important that the organization concerned should manage their waste disposal procedure properly.
What are the risks associated with improper medical waste management?
If there’s an improper medical waste disposal procedure, both non-healthcare workers and healthcare professionals are vulnerable to incur health risks. The greatest concern regarding poorly handled medical waste is exposure to infectious pathogens.
Infectious pathogens open up a wide range of health risks that anyone can’t afford to contact. The worst thing about getting in contact with infectious pathogens is they can easily access the body of a person through punctures, cuts, and inhalation, and ingestion.
The body fluids are the usual vehicles of transmission. So improper disposal of sharps like needles and syringes contaminated by human blood with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis viruses B and C, the risk is likely high and could pose a health threat to anyone who’s exposed to it.
The illness and disease
Improper medical waste management could pose high risks to anyone working in the organization. Unfortunately, the effects go on to the public, affecting and contaminating the local environment, including the ground, air, and local watersheds.
The repercussions of improper medical waste disposal on human health are staggering. Imagine, a simple needlestick can make you vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses and diseases. These are very alarming as it will lead you to contract diseases such as:
- Respiratory infections such as tuberculosis
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Incurring measles through virus-spread transmitted by outright illegal dumping of infectious waste
- HIV and AIDS through improper disposing of body fluids
- Gastrointestinal infections (includes salmonella, helminths (parasitic worms), cholera, and Shigella) caused by improper disposal of feces and infectious vomit
- Viral hepatitis A, B, and C
- Septicemia, bacterial infections, and Candida albicans
Injuries caused by medical waste by-products
Illnesses and diseases are the major health impacts with a poorly managed medical waste disposal, but it’s also important to consider that injuries caused by medical waste by-products are worth checking. This includes the following:
- radiation burns,
- poisoning and pollution by pharmaceutical products such as antibiotics and cytotoxic drugs
- poisoning and pollution caused by mercury or dioxins that release during incineration
- extreme destruction of tissue resulting in amputation because of improper handling of radioactive waste
- sharps-inflicted injuries such as cuts, abrasion, and punctures
Emphasizing the importance of regulation compliance
There’s only one way to move forward to medical waste management, and that is to follow the regulations and comply with it diligently. US EPA and even OSHA make sure that healthcare organizations adhere to the regulations to maintain their upheld responsibility to take care and look after their patients’ well-being. Any evidence that shows an ignorance of any law or guideline will not provide a legitimate excuse for them to implement proper sanctions.
They also emphasized that there will be legalities that will take place, that there’s negligence by the concerned organization. The legal ramifications of not following these health orders will cause the organization to have low productivity and expose them to the judgment of the public eye.
Medical waste is not different at all from solid waste, as both require proper waste management disposal. But the origins of these wastes are unidentified most of the time, so the thought of being exposed to something you don’t know is alarming enough.
For this reason, many agencies are stringent and serious about applying proper guidelines and sanction, if ever, to these healthcare organizations to ensure that these concerns are being taken care of. Human health, above all, is important. Hence, we should take care of it.If there’s an improper medical waste disposal procedure, both non-healthcare workers and healthcare professionals are vulnerable