Hazardous Waste Streams

Many healthcare providers that are in the same healthcare sector generate similar hazardous waste streams. For instance, long-term care facilities typically all have hazardous waste pharmaceuticals, and healthcare laboratories will generate flammable solvents, considered hazardous waste. Let’s look at some of the more common hazardous waste streams generated by healthcare facilities.

High BTU Liquid Solvent Wastes

High BTU liquids are a general description that can consist of numerous chemical constituents. BTU” stands for “British Thermal Unit,” a unit of heat defined as the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of water. Thus, these solvent waste streams have latent energy – as heat value – for the management of the waste through a combustion process. They are 100% liquid with no sludge or smaller inner containers in the DOT shipping container. A high BTU liquid solution is a good energy source (>6,000 BTU/lb) when burned and has a low amount of water. Much of the time, these are flammable liquids – look for signage!

Below are some examples of high BTU liquids that are often generated by dermatologists, veterinarians, and clinical labs:

  • Gram stain solution
  • Xylene
  • Toluene
  • Alcohols, including methanol, ethanol, and isopropanol
  • Oxygenated solvents, including acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, and ethyl acetate
  • Hexane and other aliphatic solvents

Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals

Hazardous waste pharmaceuticals (HWPs) are medications that meet the EPA definition of “hazardous waste” and have an associated RCRA hazardous waste code. HWPs make up about 8% to 10% of all medications.

Examples: warfarin, mitomycin C, lindane, nicotine, daunomycin, dandruff shampoo, insulin, vaccines, alcohol-based creams, gels, and ointments

Generators: pharmacies, skilled nursing, long-term care facilities, rehab facilities

Medical Aerosols/Inhalers

Meter-dose inhalers are pressurized canisters that are managed as aerosols. In some cases, the propellant liquid within the canister is also flammable and carries a RCRA code.

Generators: long-term care facilities, allergists, doctors’ offices

Used X-ray Fixer/Developer Solution

Fixer and developer solutions are part of a two-product system in the development of X-ray film. In their unused state, they do not carry a RCRA code. The x-ray fixer is typically a weak acid solution. During the fixing process, light-sensitive silver-halide crystals present on radiographic films are released as silver-thiosulfate. The resultant waste fixer solution has absorbed the silver and is then considered a hazardous waste due to the toxicity of the silver content.

Generators: dentists, doctors’ offices, urgent care

More Common Wastes

There are two more types of waste that most healthcare providers have:

  • Just about everyone has universal waste! Light bulbs, batteries, and mercury-containing devices are all universal wastes that can be safely recycled using convenient mailback systems.
  • Expired and unused chemical products still in manufacturer packaging may be expired or no longer needed, posing an unnecessary potential hazard to the facility. Lab packs are the best way to manage these types of chemical products.

Many medical waste generators also produce hazardous waste. Sharps Compliance offers many solutions to keep you in compliance!

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Chandra Lippitt has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Colorado School of Mines. She is certified in RCRA and DOT as well as 40 Hour HAZWOPER certified. Chandra has been in the hazardous waste industry since 2008 and has managed industrial, healthcare, retail, and governmental clients, both large and small.

published in Hazardous WasteTagged