Magazine article The Futurist

Managing Medical Waste

Magazine article The Futurist

Managing Medical Waste

Article excerpt

Syringes on beaches have raised concerns about medical wastes. What should be done?

Keeping dirty needles, bloodied bandages, and radioactive or disease-laden debris away from people will require a major comprehensive approach, according to a report by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

One problem with managing medical waste is that it doesn't only come from hospitals, OTA points out in "Finding the Rx for Managing Medical Wastes. " Clinics, private doctors' offices, and research facilities also generate waste, as do individuals. Persons with diabetes, for instance, use syringes at home or at work.

Another complicating factor is that at least four different federal agencies are involved with medical-waste issues: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Regulations also vary among different states and localities.

In order to protect the environment - and human health - basic information about the different types and sources of medical wastes is needed, says OTA. For instance, infectious materials make up a relatively small portion of medical wastes, and medical wastes themselves represent less than 3% of all municipal solid waste.

Incineration is the primary treatment method for medical wastes and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, OTA believes. However, alternatives such as auto-claving (steam sterilization), compaction, microwaving, and mechanical or chemical disinfection could prove less costly and alleviate concerns about emissions. …

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