Are You In Compliance With Proper Lab Waste Disposal Regulations?
September 19, 2019

OSHA has industry-specific rules to follow regarding the disposal of lab waste. There are several hundred thousand people who work in laboratories across the country, which means there are a multitude of biological agents and chemicals that are handled every day. These agents and chemicals are often life-threatening or at least a serious health hazard.

Your workers or students have the right to work in a safe workplace, and the law requires you take special precautions to ensure your lab is safe and your lab waste is disposed of properly. Not only is human life affected by these materials if not properly taken care of, but the environment is also threatened.

Laboratory Waste Regulations

The ACS (American Chemical Society) is committed to the safety and health of the environment and humans. There are regulations to support the protection of the environment and still allow the development of technology and science so society can benefit.

There are significant regulatory burdens placed on commercial, academic, and government laboratories as if they are the same as the large-scale industrial operations. If the same large-scale operation regulations are placed on the smaller labs, it can unintentionally create significant challenges in how the environmental impact is handled.

One example of this impact is that development and research labs generate a small quantity of hazardous wastes, yet are forced to manage it individually with the same practices applied to larger amounts. This process makes the chemical disposal of educational laboratory waste a complicated process.

To address this complex process, waste disposal services have implemented the lab pack service. This service is comprised of packing chemicals according to federal, state, and local regulations. Your containers will be marked and transported by a licensed hauler to a disposal facility for proper handling.

Your lab has to consult hazardous materials management services before you pack your chemical waste into a drum. Even though you feel the chemical meets criteria for storage just as other materials like it when placed on a shelf, it has to be packed alone to make sure there are no reactions while it is in transit. Some reactive chemicals will require special handling while being transported to ensure you comply with regulations. Some of these special handling procedures may involve submersion.

Disposal of your laboratory chemical waste starts before it is even generated. The term ‘best practice’ is what defines how wastes are mixed, stored, or collected and can make a critical cost and management difference for your lab. Your most cost-effective chemical waste solution are simple solutions such as not combining several streams of waste into one container. This practice is not only cost-effective; it ensures you are in compliance with lab waste disposal regulations.

Regular Inspections are Key Practice to Comply with Regulations

Compounds can degrade over time and need to be inspected regularly. Metals such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, and lithium can show a reaction to moisture in the air if they are not properly sealed. Picric acid or perchloric acid should be inspected to check for signs of crystallization. The caps on corrosive compounds need to be checked for signs of a reaction.

Key ‘best practice’ is a detailed inventory management system and is often required by your local regulations. Under these regulations, when you have a substance designated as waste, it needs to be recorded in a database or a form of a spreadsheet as to the date it became a waste. Along with this date, you need to identify the container’s volume with the mass volume of the contents. Before this container is put into storage, its integrity should be inspected.

If the container has been compromised, it will have to be addressed immediately with augmentation of the container or the contents must be transferred to a new container. Hazardous wastes are identified by hazard class. The containers must be either an UN-rated DOT approved drum or placed into a second form of containment for storage before being shipped.

Agency Regulations to Ensure Compliance

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Organization) along with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have guidelines established related explicitly to laboratories and their waste disposal methods. These are some of those guidelines for your review to ensure you are in compliance with proper lab waste disposal regulations.

Chemical Guidelines

There are a variety of chemicals in your lab which are able to cause inhalation injuries, burns, are carcinogenic, or eye irritations. Your chemicals and their containers must be marked clearly so identification can be made easily when they are in storage, being used, and during their disposal.

When your chemicals are disposed of, it is emphasized that they be isolated to prevent leaks. Anyone handling this disposal process must wear the proper skin, eye, and respiratory protection every time. This protective wear is also mandated during the use or of any form of handling involved with chemicals. Once the chemical is disposed of, and the protective gear is no longer necessary, it should be disposed of as well. Protective gear in these situations should be single-use only.

A lab’s chemical waste has to be strictly disposed of and segregated separately. You have to take considerable measures so that chemicals are not mixed and cause a possible dangerous reaction. Your waste disposal service will know how to dispose of the waste so that it does not become unstable or leak into the environment. A professional waste disposal service operates under all local and federal guidelines. Their method of disposal can include:

  • IncinerationThis method of disposal will turn your waste into harmless ash. The destruction of hazardous waste by means of incineration has been approved and deemed the best method by the EPA. When this process is completed appropriately, incineration eliminates all toxic constituents from the hazardous waste, as well as reduces its volume. 
  • SolidificationIn a solidification process, hazardous waste is bound into a solid mass, or block. The waste can or cannot react chemically with the agents used to create a solid block. The solidification process is often used as a means to stabilize or reduce the mobility of a pollutant. In the broad sense of the word, solidification includes the stabilization of chemical processes to transform them into a less or a non-toxic form.
  • Biological treatments-When hazardous waste is incinerated, there is a risk of air pollution. Biological treatments are a way of preventing this risk and disposing of particular organic wastes biologically. This method involves using living organisms for treatment of hazardous wastes. 

Your professional waste disposal service will rely on the labeling of your chemical containers to know which method of disposal to use in compliance with regulations.

Guidelines for Infectious Materials

When materials come into contact with body fluids such as urine, blood, plasma, saliva, pus, semen, vaginal fluids, or amniotic fluid, they are considered infectious. These materials cannot be disposed of with general waste once they have come into contact with any of these substances.

Items that may come into contact with infectious fluids include your sharps, linens, intravenous equipment, glassware, lab samples, gross blood and tissues, aspirates, amputated body parts, bandages, and others that have made contact. Once these items contain infectious pathogens that are able to cause or spread disease, they require special disposal separate from general disposal methods.

The goal in providing these items for special disposal methods is to kill any disease microbes on them and then proceed to discard them as general waste. Some of the methods used for disposing of infectious lab waste include:

  • Incineration which will kill all the microbes and reduce the amount of the waste as it is turned into ash
  • Steam sterilization subjects the waste to a pressurized steam process for a specified time
  • Gas or vapor sterilization subject the waste to a vapor or gas process for a specified time
  • Irradiation uses radiation to destroy infectious bacteria

Guideline for Disposing of Sharps

In the lab setting, there is a lot of waste generated, which is classified as sharps. These items include broken glassware, needles, lancets, used auto-injectors, scalpels, ceramics, and syringes. These items all have the potential for containing blood-borne diseases and are capable of causing serious injury.

Sharps from your lab have to be disposed of immediately to prevent further harm. Their waste containers have to be located in the area where they are used. When sharps are handled, it is required a tong-like device be used to remove them if it is necessary. The containers for used or disposed of sharps have to be solid, leak-proof, and sealable. These containers must be clearly marked.

Incineration is often the preferred method of disposal for lab sharps. This method will reduce the volume of sharp waste as well as ensure the items are made infectious free.

Choose the Right Management Service to Ensure Disposal Regulation Compliance

Your first step in making sure your laboratory waste disposal management is in compliance with federal, state, and local agencies, is to choose the right service provider.

You want to choose a service that has the experience of handling complicated waste materials, and has all the applicable licensing and permits for providing this service to your lab. You also need to verify that the personnel they will place on your site are fully trained in how to manage chemical hazard recognition.

When talking about laboratory waste disposal management for your facility, know you are responsible for choosing a service that will comply with all regulations set forth for hazardous lab waste. You want a service that will reflect well on your facility and ensure that your disposal methods remain in compliance with all regulations.

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