Defining and Managing Biohazardous Waste in U.S. Research-Oriented Universities: A Survey of Environmental Health and Safety Professionals. (Features)

By Lyn Mecklem, Robin; Neumann, Catherine M. | Journal of Environmental Health, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Defining and Managing Biohazardous Waste in U.S. Research-Oriented Universities: A Survey of Environmental Health and Safety Professionals. (Features)


Lyn Mecklem, Robin, Neumann, Catherine M., Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

"Biohazardous waste" is an umbrella term for waste that poses a biological hazard to living organisms. It encompasses medical waste, which primarily comprises wastes potentially infectious to humans, as well as wastes from animal or plant research that are potentially infectious to those organisms or might alter their natural genetic-selection process. Research that generates biohazardous waste is commonly conducted at large research-oriented universities.

Management of the biohazardous waste stream in this environment is a challenge to the environmental health and safety (EHS) professional, who must consider multiple state and federal regulations and accreditation requirements (Table 1). The EHS professional also must understand the nature of research being conducted.

The purpose of this study was to identify how large research-oriented universities address biohazardous waste management by surveying EHS professionals responsible for this activity. EHS professionals at such institutions were asked the following questions:

1. Which agency regulations or guidelines (state, federal, accreditation) are used to define biohazardous waste streams?

2. What are the most common methods of treatment and disposal for various categories of biohazardous waste produced?

3. What administrative controls are used to ensure safe and proper handling, treatment, and disposal of biohazardous waste? Results are provided, along with recommendations for developing an effective model biohazardous waste management plan for large research-oriented universities.

Methods

The sample population in this study was universities that are classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as Research I and Research II universities (Higher Education Publications, Inc., 1999). In 1999, Research I universities were defined as giving high priority to research and receiving $40 million or more annually in federal funding. There were 88 universities that fit this classification. Research II universities also were defined as giving high priority to research, but as receiving between $15.5 million and $40 million annually in federal funding. There were 34 Research II universities, making a total sample population of 122. Research I and Research II universities were chosen for this study because they are most likely to conduct research in areas such as microbiology, biochemistry, and animal science, in which medical or biohazardous waste is generated outside of a clinical environment. In addition, these universities are likely to have an EHS staff that is knowledgeable abo ut, and possibly responsible for, the administration of the university's program for managing biohazardous waste.

The EHS department of each university was contacted by phone to identify the appropriate person to complete the survey. Once identified, potential respondents were contacted by phone 1) to verify that each of them was the best person to complete the survey, 2) to provide an overview of the survey and its significance, and 3) to verify mailing information.

A questionnaire was sent by mail and served as the survey instrument for this study. To ensure that questions were clear and appropriate, the survey was pilot-tested by a group of EHS professionals who were not part of the respondent group. The pilot group comprised individuals who were active in the administration of their institution's biohazardous waste management program but not directly responsible for it.

The final questionnaire contained 17 questions, closed-ended and exhaustive, based on the research questions previously stated. Respondents were asked to return their completed survey within 30 days. After the 30-day period, nonresponders were contacted by email or by phone and reminded of the survey Data collection was terminated after 90 days, with a final response rate of 82.6 percent.

Results

Institutional Profile

Information is given in Figure 1 about the kinds of activities or facilities at each institution that would be likely to affect the generation of biohazardous waste. …

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