Written by Megan Chamberlain
25 Dec 2018

Negative Effects of Dumping Medical Waste

Do you know how much medical waste is generated every year, just in the United States? It’s estimated that one hospital bed can generate anywhere between 13 and 23 pounds of medical waste per day. That’s over 6,000 pounds per bed per year!

 

Let's talk about how many syringes and sharps are disposed of every year. Roughly two million people in the United States are diabetics and take daily insulin injections. We’re not even talking about illegal drug use; combined, it's estimated that over 1 billion syringes are used and disposed of annually.

Where does all the medical waste go? In most cases, it’s properly disposed of - incinerated, recycled, or autoclaved, and only a small amount ends up in landfills.

However, the negative effects of illegal dumping of medical waste are eye-opening, shocking, and discouraging.

Improperly disposed of medical waste not only endangers the general public, but the environment. It costs lots of money too in fines and penalties.

 

Healthcare dangers of medical improper medical waste disposal

The negative impact of improper medical waste disposal on human health is staggering. The potential transmission of infectious diseases from needlestick injury or contamination is a primary concern due to medical illnesses and diseases that may be caused by improper disposal of medical waste:

  • Respiratory infections such as tuberculosis, Streptococcus pneumonia, and viruses like the measles, all of which can be transmitted through improper disposal or outright illegal dumping of infectious waste.
  • HIV and AIDS are both transmitted through items contaminated with blood or body fluids.
  • Gastrointestinal infections such as salmonella, helminths (parasitic worms), cholera, and Shigella are transmitted through materials contaminated with infectious vomitus or feces.
  • Viral hepatitis A (transmitted through feces), B, or C, which, like HIV and AIDS, are transmitted via items contaminated with blood or bodily fluids.
  • Septicemia, bacterial infections, and Candida albicans are also transmitted through items contaminated with tainted blood.

 

The above list is only the tip of the iceberg of the potential dangers to human health and wellness caused by dumping medical waste.

Dangers to humans is only one negative aspect of improper medical waste disposal practices. Severe damage to the environment is also a concern.

 

Environmental ramifications of medical waste dumping

When visiting the beach to enjoy a nice, relaxing day, do you want to see syringes lying in the sand or washed up on the beach? We don’t. When you venture to your favorite fishing hole to catch a large-mouth bass for supper, do you want to find soiled bandages or bloody gauze floating in the water? And what about the stuff you can’t even see?

Finding any type of medical waste on the ground, in the water, or knowing that particles of it are floating on the air around you is alarming at all levels. Unfortunately, it still happens. In the early 1990s, every state took over creating, establishing, and maintenance guidelines for healthcare waste management.

Even so, proper medical waste disposal practices are YOUR responsibility – it’s the law!

An alarming amount of water is discharged by hospitals into sewer systems, to be then managed by wastewater treatment plants. It’s estimated that one hospital bed per year generates approximately 145,000 gallons of wastewater. Improper treatment of sanitary waste increases the risk of dangerous particles, toxins, or other contaminants into the environment.

Even the most effective water treatment plants or sewage collection treatments are unable to remove all contaminants such as microbes or pharmaceuticals from wastewater, leaving traces levels of chemicals behind with the potential to be released into the environment.

Nearly two decades ago, a US geological survey conducted surveys in 139 streams in 30 states and found that 80% of the streams were contaminated with pharmaceuticals, organic contaminants, and hormones. In the intervening years, pharmaceutical waste has been found in lakes and groundwater.

In 2013, dozens of trace pharmaceuticals were found in Lake Michigan - an area that covers over 14,000 acres and has a volume over 1,000 mi.³! You can imagine what such contamination does to not only the fish and other aquatic life in our waterways, but its effect on the food chain.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since then, but it’s still necessary to threaten penalties and massive fines for improper medical waste disposal.

 

Financial consequences of illegal medical waste disposal

The financial consequences of improper or illegal medical waste dumping are huge. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency increased penalties that now average $20,000 to $93,000 per violation, per day. Other agencies, government and state, also have the option of impose their own penalties on top of that.

 

Conclusion

Legislation, staggering fines and penalties, as well as greater awareness of the human and environmental risk of illegally dumping medical waste or improper medical waste disposal has improved over the last few decades. However, it still happens.

In spring 2018, the World Health Organization estimated that approximately 40% of hepatitis cases around the world are caused by the improper disposal of medical waste. If that isn’t eye-opening, we don’t know what is. Daniels Health is dedicated to proper healthcare waste management. We encourage the cradle-to-grave approach, which not only enhances sustainability, but guides us toward reduced carbon footprint and CO2 emissions reduction.

For more information about how Daniels Health can help you reduce not only the volume of medical waste heading to landfills (which saves you money), but ensure that your management, transportation, and disposal of medical waste holds up to federal and state guidelines.

 

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Megan Chamberlain

Megan Chamberlain

Compliance and Digital Solutions Specialist

With a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things and a quick wit, Megan was the recipient of the Daniels Pun-Master Award 2017 and is the go-to girl for all things compliance.