Medical Waste: It's Unregulated and Threatening the
Health of the Public and Environment Mail-Back Solutions to
Disposal and Transportation of Medical Waste Exist
http://hepatitis-central.com/Hepatitis C Virus/misc/waste.html
HOUSTON, July 23 /PRNewswire/ -- An unsuspecting child is
stuck by a used syringe while retrieving a ball that bounced
into the neighbor's trash. A trash collector is cut by a used
syringe while transferring a load into the truck. A hotel
housekeeper reaches under the mattress to change the bed and
sticks her hand on a used syringe. Or a homecare nurse drives
her family around for the weekend with a sharps container full
of used patient syringes in the back seat of her vehicle.
The problem? Unregulated disposal and transportation of
home and self-care generated medical waste.
Thousands of people improperly dispose and unsafely
transport needles and blood contaminated materials (i.e.
medical waste) everyday, putting a significant number of
people at risk. More than one million accidental needlesticks
are reported each year, and it is estimated that an additional
66 percent per year also go unreported. These incidents can
directly expose people to many different infectious agents,
including hepatitis and AIDS.
Until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has federal
authority to issue federal standards on medical waste disposal
or states improve their current medical waste regulations,
providers of home health care, consumers and hospitality
services must take responsibility to protect their employees,
the public and the environment.
The chance for a needle to be contaminated with infectious
viruses and bacteria agents can be high. For example, there
are an estimated 1.25 million hepatitis B carriers and close
to 4 million hepatitis C carriers in the country. Should any
of these people generate contaminated medical waste, people
could be at risk because of improper medical waste disposal.
Medical waste is generated in a variety of forms and in any
number of places, for example, in homes of chronically ill
patients who dispose of their used syringes in their household
garbage, in a restaurant where a waiter cuts himself on a
broken glass or in a hotel room where an insulin dependent
diabetic guest places a used lancet in the trash.
"People are acutely aware of the danger of AIDS, but
there is a greater threat when it comes to diseases spread
through potentially infectious medical waste," says Janet
Emmerman, national consultant and expert in medical waste
industry. "It is hepatitis B. The hepatitis B virus
accounts for approximately 300,000 of the new hepatitis cases
a year. Approximately 40,000 of these patients die annually.
By comparison, AIDS infects about 35,000 people a year with
approximately 10 percent of the patients dying of the disease
annually. An extremely hearty virus, hepatitis B can survive
on surfaces for seven to ten days."
Today, while employers in the hospitality and homecare
industries must comply with Occupational and Safety Hazard
Association (OSHA) regulations which has some medical waste
regulations that protect employees, the EPA has no current
authority to issue any other federal regulations on the
treatment and disposal of medical waste. In November 1988,
President Ronald Reagan, in response to a rash of beach wash
ups and improperly disposed medical waste, signed into law the
Medical Waste Tracking Act, establishing a two-year
demonstration program to track medical waste from cradle to
grave. Once the program expired, Congress did not extend or
expand the law because medical waste problems quieted as most
states took action and implemented their own regulations.
As a result, regulations vary from state to state. Many
states have tough regulations on medical waste while others
have none. Those states that do regulate medical waste have
exempted waste produced in the home from the regulations,
similarly to the exemptions to hazardous chemical waste.
However, unlike chemicals, items such as syringes with needles
and lancets can not be diluted. They can still stick someone
no matter how much they are mixed with trash. States also
often exempt the medical waste removed from a single home by a
home health care company based on the weight of the material
generated. The reasons for exemption are because of the
difficulty in enforcing stricter regulations concerning home
generated waste and the relatively small percentage of the
material when compared to that generated in more traditional
health care settings.
Due to recent changes in health care, a significant amount
of health care has been shifted to the home setting and there
has been an explosion of the use of injectable drugs used at
the home. According to Emmerman, the number of patients,
procedures and homecare agencies have increased dramatically
in last ten years. For example, indigent patients alone
accounted for approximately 2 million home care clients in
1990; this number doubled to 4 million in 1997. This increase
is of concern when one realizes that the level of care at home
has intensified and with it the generation of medical waste.
Solutions do exist. One developed by a Houston-based
medical waste disposal company Sharps Compliance Inc. (OTC
Bulletin Board: SCOM) (Sharps), is a mail-back medical waste
disposal system called Sharps Disposal By Mail. The system is
available to small generators of medical waste and includes
U.S. Postal approved sharps containers, prepaid U.S. postage
and destruction costs of the waste that is in strict
compliance with all regulatory requirements.
In this medical waste disposal system, the homecare company
or hotel manager orders the system, completes the tracking
form and delivers the system to the patient or caregiver in
the case of homecare, or to the cleaning staff in the case of
the hospitality industry. When the sharps container is full or
no longer needed, the container is placed in the pre-paid U.S.
postage return box and given to the U.S. Postal Service. The
Postal Service then delivers the package directly to a medical
waste incinerator. When the waste materials have been
destroyed, proof of destruction is mailed back to the
purchaser using the tracking form.
The advantages to the Sharps Disposal By Mail System are
numerous. "The system reduces the risks of our neighbors,
workers or others being injured in the disposal transportation
of medical waste," says Burt Kunik, president and CEO,
Sharps Compliance Inc. "The system also offers easy
compliance with JCAHO, OSHA, federal, state and municipal
regulations with its tracking ability."
In addition to providing a safe means for the disposal and
transportation of medical waste, the Sharps Disposal By Mail
system reduces the hidden costs such as workers compensation
claims for accidental sticks or civil litigation from
customers receiving an accidental stick.
According to studies, the estimated cost of a needle stick
to a company is approximately $6,000. If a disease is
contracted, that could be increased to $200,000 or more.
Larry Box, director of pharmacy, field and clinical
services of Apria Home Care, is currently using the mail-back
system in approximately 30 of his offices nationwide. Box
states the Sharps mail-back system reduces the incidence rate
at which his workers are injured or exposed to medical waste
during the disposal and transportation stage. "The
process is smooth and easy. The medical waste goes from point
A to point B -- from the patient to the incinerator and we
receive the confirmation."
OSHA has given the mandate to protect employees in the work
place. According to OSHA's bloodborne pathogen standard,
employers must have a written exposure control plan that
outlines how to eliminate and minimize exposure, have adequate
numbers of sharps containers located as close as possible to
the immediate area where sharps are likely to be found, and
have a procedure in place for handling sharps containers. This
is well known in the health care industry, however, Dr. Kunik
adds that staff and guests in the hospitality industry are not
aware of the impact of improper disposal of waste.
"Typically, hospitality managers will say 'we only
find a few syringes a year' but often these are the ones that
have caused a problem'" adds Dr. Kunik. "The reason
is they have no disposal system in place, so most items are
discarded into the solid waste, transferring the danger to the
waste handler. This increases liability to hotels , motels and
the like with risk to the public as well as to OSHA fines.
Also, commingling even one sharp into the solid waste can
cause the entire dumpster to be considered medical waste. The
whole practice is an unnecessary risk."
Sharps Compliance Inc., based in Houston, Texas provides a
convenient, cost effective and environmentally sound system to
be used for home medical care which generates medical waste.
Sharps distributes its products nationally to several
industries including home health care, hospitality medical and
dental practices and diabetics.
SOURCE Sharps Compliance, Inc.