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Hazardous Waste vs Biohazardous Waste

On Monday, April 22nd, the world will celebrate Earth Day, a holiday dedicated to the preservation of the environment. By 1969, environmental disasters such as the Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River fire had raised national awareness about the consequences of unchecked industry. Earth Day was introduced in 1970 as a bipartisan effort to unite groups from across the country interested in various aspects of environmental protection.


Thanks to this movement, we as individuals, and as histologists in our laboratories, are aware of the importance of recycling and proper waste disposal. One question that histology labs frequently deal with is the difference between hazardous and biohazardous waste. Hazardous waste is a waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment. (Check out NSH’s hazardous waste infographic!). Biohazardous waste, however, specifically refers to waste containing potentially infectious materials, such as blood, body fluids, tissue specimens etc. Biohazardous waste can also be referred to as medical waste or infectious medical waste depending on the state you live in. Within biohazardous waste there are also several different categories commonly identified by state regulating agencies. These typically include animal waste from animals exposed to pathogens, human blood and blood products, pathological waste, microbiological waste, and sharps (things like needles that could come in contact with infectious materials). Waste can also be classified as mixed hazardous waste, if the biohazardous waste contains hazardous chemicals.


With all of these distinctions it can be difficult to make sure your facility is correctly disposing of all of their different kinds of waste. Waste disposal is extremely important however, as it can affect the community, and if something goes wrong, it is your facility who will be held accountable.


Because of its potential impact on the surrounding community, biohazardous waste disposal is largely regulated by the states as opposed to the federal government, though OSHA has some guidelines. Within each state, disposal guidelines can differ based on what that state’s Department of Environmental Protection requires. These guidelines will typically cover need to know things such as how biohazardous waste needs to be packed, labeled, how long you can keep waste on site, and how to complete a manifest (a document sometimes required by the transport company letting them know what they’re transporting).


Check out this site to locate the agencies in your state that set these regulations.


In celebration of Earth Day on Monday, NSH will be premiering a video with tips from Robin Fitzl, a histology environmental expert, on topics such as recycling laboratory gloves, disposing of Styrofoam packaging, and more! Join us for this YouTube Live premiere on Monday at 2PM Eastern, to watch and chat with other viewers and Robin herself. Click here to subscribe to our YouTube channel!



References

https://www.earthday.org/about/the-history-of-earth-day/

http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Cuyahoga_River_Fire

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/a-fierce-green-fire-timeline-of-environmental-movement/2988/

https://www.fixationonhistology.com/home/managing-hazardous-waste

http://www.hercenter.org/regsandstandards/dot.php

https://extranet.fredhutch.org/en/u/ehs/hamm/chap6/section8.html

https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=10051&p_table=STANDARDS

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The National Society for Histotechnology is a professional member organization for individuals actively involved in the histology profession. NSH has over 3,000 members worldwide, and is the leading provider of histology focused continuing education.  

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