You have access to the best medical facilities in town; it’s a BLESSING. But, with the increase in healthcare facilities, waste is also increasing substantially. Hospitals generate a large amount of trash each year. Reports have shown that only in the USA, 4 billion tons of biomedical waste is generated each year. Not all of the waste produced in hospitals is hazardous. According to WHO, around 15% of medical waste is hazardous -infectious, radioactive, and chemical. The rest of the 85% is trash with no hazardous impacts. This article will give you insight into some bad facts about healthcare waste.
Healthcare waste has serious negative impacts on human health, especially the staff of hospitals. Waste contaminated with body fluids, cultures from laboratories, human organs, syringes, and blades are considered hazardous medical waste. Moreover, the solvent used in laboratories, disinfectants, sterilants, mercury from broken thermometers, expired medicines, and radioactive materials have potentially harmful impacts.
Medical sector is responsible for 12% of acid rain and 10% of Greenhouse gas emissions
Healthcare Waste! A Global Health Challenge
The health impacts of hazardous medical waste and its management issues are some common problems associated with it. Poor management of healthcare waste releases harmful chemicals into the environment. According to WHO, biomedical and healthcare waste has become a global health challenge.
Hospital waste and by-products cover a wide range of materials. Healthcare waste has ten different categories, each of which requires different treatment procedures. Therefore, the management of hospital waste has become a serious issue.
Category 1: Human tissues, organs, and parts of the body
Category 2: Animal tissues and organs
Category 3: Microbiological waste such as cell cultures and toxins
Category 4: Waste sharps such as needles, syringes, and scalpels
Category 5: Discarded medicines and outdated drugs
Category 6: Used dressings, plasters, and cotton
Category 7: Solid waste such as tubes and IV sets
Category 8: Liquid waste
Category 9: Incineration waste
Category 10: Chemical waste
Biomedical waste affects humans, animals, and their environment. Following are the bad facts of healthcare waste:
1. Hospital Waste Could Spread Disease:
Infected medical waste has the potential to cause death among humans. Hospital staff and waste handlers are more prone to hazardous healthcare waste. Biomedical waste contains harmful microorganisms that can infect patients, healthcare workers, and the general population. Blood, body fluids, and secretions are some transmission vehicles that cause AIDS, respiratory infection, ocular infection, and skin infection. Furthermore, gastroenteric infection, genital infection, and hepatitis could spread among humans.
Despite the hazardous impacts of the reuse of medical waste, it’s still in practice. A large number of used medical equipment are sent to low-income countries for reuse. Reuse of medical equipment -syringe and needles- caused 33,800 new HIV cases worldwide in 2010.
A study conducted in Taiwan has shown that each bed produces 0.19-0.88kg of infectious waste each day. So, the rate of biomedical waste production is quite high. Exposure to radioactive waste in hospitals may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting and affect the genetic material of the body. In Brazil, exposure to biomedical waste has carcinogenic impacts on the general population.
2. Healthcare Waste and Air Pollution:
Emissions from healthcare sectors are responsible for environmental degradation. Ten years of economic input-output data of NHE revealed that the medical sector is responsible for 12% of acid rain and 10% of Greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, 9-10% of air pollutants are released due to medical waste. Since the impacts of global warming are devastating, the healthcare sector cannot be neglected. Poor management of waste not only spread pathogenic disease but emit GHGs. Open burning and incineration are common practices for the management of healthcare waste. So, dioxins, furans, and particulate matter are released into the atmosphere. These substances persist in the atmosphere for a long time and cause air pollution.
Treatment of medical waste with disinfectants -usually chemicals- release harmful chemicals in the atmosphere. Indoor air pollution from pathogens and spores is responsible for infection to both patient and their attendant.
Hospital Waste Could Spread Disease
Healthcare Waste and Air Pollution
Land Pollution From Biomedical Waste
Wildlife and Healthcare Waste
3. Water Contamination:
Liquid biomedical waste enters water bodies and contaminates them. Pollution of water bodies further affects the life within water -aquatic flora and fauna. Pollutants emit from biomedical waste can come down with rain and contaminate both surface and groundwater. Consumption of polluted water increases the risk of water-borne disease among humans.
4. Land Pollution From Biomedical Waste:
The final disposal of biomedical waste -both treated and non-treated- is landfill. So, land pollution from biomedical waste is inevitable. Heavy metals in the waste can enter the ecosystem through the soil and affect plant growth. This may also alter the functioning of the whole ecosystem. The trace amount of heavy metals and toxins can contaminate the food chain. Radioactive waste from hospitals (cadavers and absorbent paper) also causes soil pollution. Dumping sites for burnt hospital waste in Nigeria contain a high level of Lead and Chlorine in the soil. Both of these heavy metals are found in fruits of plants and pose a negative impact on human health when they are consumed.
5. Wildlife and Healthcare Waste:
Hospitals release a large amount of biohazard waste in water and also dump it on land. Improperly handled medical waste is usually dumped close to wildlife habitats. The odour of waste -solid and liquid medications- attracts the animals, and they consume it. It may injure them or kill them outright. Aquatic animals also consume the toxic solvent and bear the worst consequences.
Management of Healthcare Waste:
Lack of awareness about the hazardous impact of medical waste makes its management a challenge globally. Biomedical waste, unlike other types of waste, cannot be reused. So, a great burden lies on management personnel. Traditional management practices are cheap but not environmentally friendly. Steam treatment and microwaving are some alternatives to incineration that require proper maintenance. Before waste management lies waste minimization, hospitals should utilize their products mindfully and reduce the amount of healthcare waste.
Countries around the world tend to provide better medical facilities to people. Progress in the medical field increases the generation of waste also. Hospitals produce a large amount of waste that is hazardous. It affects the health of attendants and is a major public health issue. A large number of pollutants and GHGs are released into the atmosphere due to poor management of healthcare waste. Waste also degrades the quality of land and water. A proper waste management policy would help to minimize the impacts of waste produced by Healthcare institutes.