Hazardous waste is a workplace reality for every dental practice. As with any other type of office that provides medical services of any kind, employees of dental practices must have a plan in place on how to deal with the various forms of hazardous waste they encounter throughout their day-to-day activities.
However, the fact that there are more than a few types of hazardous waste materials that dentists and others operating in dental offices must handle properly can often be a source of stress or at least inconvenience.
With that in mind, here is a general overview of what common types of hazardous waste a dental practice employee might encounter, why it’s considered hazardous and how to correctly handle and dispose of the waste.
Hazardous waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is any form of waste that has properties that are dangerous or could be harmful to humans or the environment.
These waste materials are generated from a wide variety of sources across many industries, including medicine and healthcare. The hazardous waste generated can be in the form of liquids, solids, gases and sludges.
Hazardous waste has long been regulated due to the risks it poses to both human and environmental health. In 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA, was approved and established a framework for how to manage hazardous waste materials.
These materials had become top-of-mind for many concerned individuals beginning in the mid-twentieth century. This was due to the increasing generation of solid waste, a decreasing disposal capacity, increasing cost of disposal and the fact that the general public was strongly opposed to creating new facilities for waste disposal.
Even today, many of these regulatory concerns remain for those who keep a watchful eye over human health and environmental issues.
That’s where the RCRA comes in. This framework has put in place a comprehensive regulatory program that seeks to make sure hazardous waste is managed safely from “cradle to grave,” to use an EPA phrase. That means the waste is regulated and managed from the time it is created, to when it is transported, treated, stored and until it is disposed.
On top of federal regulations, hazardous waste is often regulated by local and state-level agencies, as well. Dental facilities must be aware of all regulations that affect them.
All hazardous waste can be traced back to a facility where it is generated. These generators, as they are defined by the EPA, are the first responsible for following best practices for hazardous waste management. Dental practices and similar facilities are generators of hazardous waste.
The next step from a generator of waste is a transporter. Transporters are those that move the material to a facility that is able to recycle, treat, store or dispose of the waste. Transporters are affected by both EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations as they often travel on public routes.
Hazardous waste ends up at facilities that will properly handle or dispose of the materials. While some of the waste will be treated and disposed of in either landfills or incinerators, other forms of waste can be safely recycled. Recycling this waste can reduce the amount of space needed to securely store raw materials that cannot be recycled.
Several types of hazardous waste can be commonly encountered in dental practices. It is critical that employees are aware of how to properly handle these materials. Not only does their safety depend on it, but so does the safety of patients and the environment.
Not all waste that is generated in a dental facility or office is considered hazardous, though. In fact, most of the waste that these facilities do generate is not hazardous and can be treated just as any other form of standard household waste would be.
However, dental practice employees must be trained on how to identify and follow the best practices for situations in which they do come into contact with materials that are classified as hazardous waste.
Dental amalgam is perhaps the type of waste that is on most dentists’ minds at the moment. This is because EPA regulations now require most dental practices and similar facilities to install and maintain amalgam separators that prevent the material from entering wastewater systems.
Dental amalgam, a substance commonly used in cavity fillings, is a mixture of metals. This amalgam is considered hazardous waste because it contains mercury, an element that is a well-known toxin that can harm both people exposed to it and the environment.
Once a practice has installed an amalgam separator, it must ensure that the separator is recycled when full. Many practices partner with waste management partners to accomplish this.
Other common forms of waste that practitioners will encounter on a frequent basis include x-ray waste and lead.
Lead is not the only hazardous material associated with x-rays, though. There are also processing chemicals, acid etch, disinfectants, monomers, x-ray film and even some adhesives.
Many waste management providers can offer several different solutions to handling waste associated with x-rays.
Sharps and medical waste are both seen daily in dental practices.
Sharps must be placed in a container that is puncture- and leak-proof and labeled for sharps disposal. They should also be placed in an area easily accessible to those who will use them, but not in high-traffic areas of the office.
As for medical waste, these must also go in properly labeled containers that are again puncture- and leak-proof. Medical waste cannot be thrown in regular trash due to the risk of spreading infection or disease.
The final common hazardous waste we’ll cover in this post is pharmaceutical waste. Many of the ingredients in pharmaceuticals that make them effective in the first place are also the reason why they are considered hazardous. If used outside their intended purpose, or if introduced to wastewater systems, they could do harm.
As with other forms of waste, pharmaceutical materials must be disposed of in labeled containers and must be separated from traditional trash as it will be disposed of differently.
Dental practices should focus more on providing excellent service in a safe environment for their patients and less on what to do with hazardous waste once they have followed initial best practices.
That’s where a complete regulator solution provider such as DRNA can help. DRNA helps practices and facilities come into compliance and follow all regulations for properly disposing, recycling and removing hazardous waste from their facilities.
Contact DRNA today to determine how we can help your dental practice.