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Medical waste removal requires special care because of the highly hazardous nature of medical and biomedical waste. These types of waste can include hazardous liquids, solids, chemicals and sharp objects. Medical waste can potentially pose serious health and environmental risks if disposed of improperly. There are several correct and relatively safe methods for the removal and destruction of biohazardous materials, including separation into color-coordinated, labeled and sealed containers; steam sterilization; incineration; and shredding.
Medical waste primarily originates in places where diseases are treated and diagnosed or where dead humans and animals are handled. Typical places where medical waste removal is regularly required include hospitals, hospice care facilities, morgues, laboratories and veterinary offices. A facility will often rely on outside contractors for disposal and management of medical waste rather than trying to take care of it themselves.
Most methods of medical waste removal must begin in the facilities where they are produced. Strict procedures are usually in place for the initial containment of different kinds of hazardous materials, mainly involving their separation from other types of waste. Needles and other sharp objects, for instance, must be collected in specifically labeled and colored containers; the same is true for other biohazards such as carcasses, chemicals, toxins and virus contaminations. This not only helps to dispose of the items, but also prevents cross-contamination of different forms of biohazards.
The cleaning and sterilization of reusable medical equipment is another form of medical waste removal. These are popular methods, and they allow for the safe continued use of expensive equipment. Methods of cleaning include sterilization through microwaves, steam and chemical cleaning. Human blood, for instance, generally can be poured into a regular sewer after being sterilized with steam.
Once collected, it is often necessary to destroy medical waste so it cannot make its way back into the environment. Incineration is a popular method to destroy medical waste, where it is introduced to extremely high temperatures and detoxified. This only applies to certain types of medical waste, though; burning some types can introduce other hazardous materials into the air, such as mercury or dioxin. Similarly, sharp objects can be melted down or shredded to lessen the potential for more hazardous situations and environmental accidents.
In many countries, hazardous waste removal is regulated by the government for the general safety and welfare of its citizens. In the United States, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes regulations and guidelines for the safe removal, transportation and destruction of hazardous wastes. In the United Kingdom, the Environment Agency provides such guidance.