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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Biomedical waste fact sheet

What are biomedical wastes?
  • Biomedical wastes include a wide variety of items that may carry disease-causing germs including those that cause hepatitis and the virus that causes AIDS. It also includes items such as: live vaccines; laboratory samples; cultures; sharp needles; lancets that have been used to puncture, cut, or scrape the body; and human or animal body fluids or waste.

  • Because laboratories, hospitals, and medical clinics generate much of this waste, these facilities are required by law to follow procedures to protect the public from contact with this waste.

  • Biomedical waste can also be created in homes and businesses so it is important for everyone to know about safe handling of this type of waste.

  • Sometimes in a disaster situation, normal disposal systems for biomedical waste may be disrupted. When these disruptions occur, the disease risk from these wastes increases.
What can I do to protect myself from biomedical wastes?
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling biomedical waste. Also, wash all areas of your body with soap and water that you think may have come into contact with biomedical waste, even if you are not sure your body actually touched the biomedical waste.
  • Keep all sores and cuts covered.
  • Immediately replace wet bandages with clean, dry bandages.
  • Wear disposable latex gloves when handling biomedical waste. Discard the gloves immediately after use.
  • Wear an apron or another type of cover to protect your clothes from contact with the waste. If your clothes become soiled, put on fresh clothes, and take a shower, if possible.
  • Launder or throw away clothes soiled with biomedical waste.
  • Promptly clean and disinfect soiled, hard-surfaced floors by using a germicidal or bleach solution and mopping up with paper towels.
  • Clean soiled carpets. First blot up as much of the spill as possible with paper towels and put the soiled paper towels in a plastic lined, leak-proof container. Then try one of the following:
    • Steam clean the carpet with an extraction method.
    • Scrub the carpet with germicidal rug shampoo and a brush. Soak the brush used for scrubbing in a disinfectant solution and rinse the brush. Let the carpet dry, and then vacuum it.

  • Never handle syringes, needles, or lancets with your hands. Use a towel, shovel, and/or broom and a dustpan to pick up these sharp objects. Dispose of them in a plastic soda pop bottle with a cap. Tape down the bottle cap. Then throw the bottle in the trash.
Why is appropriate storage and containment of biomedical waste important?
Biomedical waste can be a health and safety hazard due to the nature of the waste. Biomedical waste may contain disease causing germs.

What are the rules and regulations governing the storage, containment, and disposal of biomedical waste?

Storage

  • Sort and separate biomedical waste from other waste at the point where the waste is created.
  • Keep it from direct contact with humans, animals, insects, and environmental elements, such as rain and wind. Limit access only to people who are trained and authorized to handle this waste.

Containment

This section describes the types of containers in which different types of medical waste should be held while in storage or under transport.

  • Sharps must be contained in leak-proof, rigid, puncture-resistant, break-resistant containers which are labeled and tightly lidded during storage, handling, and transport.
  • For biomedical waste, excluding sharps, dispose of the waste in leak-proof plastic bags strong enough to prevent ripping, tearing, breaking, or bursting under normal conditions of use. Rigid plastic, single-use, or approved multiple-use marked containers may also be used. Biomedical waste that is held in plastic bags should additionally be placed in another leak-proof container such as disposable or reusable pails, drums, or bins during storage or transport.
  • Secure bags or containers to prevent leakage or expulsion during storage.
  • The container holding the biomedical waste should be conspicuously labeled with the international biohazard symbol, and the words "Biomedical Waste" (or words that clearly denote biomedical waste).

Disposal

  • Biomedical waste must not be compacted or placed into the regular garbage before it is decontaminated.
  • Trash chutes must not be used to transfer biomedical waste.
  • Biomedical waste, except sharps, must be treated or delivered to a biomedical waste storage/treatment operator within fourteen (14) days, unless otherwise approved by the health officer.
  • Sharps waste must be disposed of or be transported to a storage treatment facility within ninety (90) days starting from the time the sharps container is sealed.
How do I decontaminate reusable containers used for storage or transport of biomedical waste?

Use the following method each time they are emptied:

  • Remove visible solid residue.
  • Chemical disinfectants should be used in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. Select chemical disinfectants that are rated as having tuberculoid and viricidal (polio type 1 or 2, rotavirus) killing capacities or use disinfectant concentrations and contact times approved in writing by Public Health's Environmental Health Division -- call 206-263-9566 for assistance.
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