Not only must care be taken when working with biological agents (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites etc), but also when managing the resulting waste. How the waste is treated depends upon the characteristics of the waste (i.e., solid, liquid, mix) and the associated risk of the biological agent. The means of treatment for decontamination may involve chemical agents (bleach, ethanol, etc ), or physical means (autoclaving, incineration, etc.). Diligence must be applied to ensure your own personal safety and that of others, as once treated this material will be directed into the public domain. Consequently, there are many oversight bodies which are concerned and regulate or set requirements regarding this waste (Health Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, City of Ottawa).
There are three terms that are often referenced when discussing waste and it is important to understand the difference between: sterilization, decontamination, and disinfection. Sterilization is a process which if followed correctly will result in the total destruction of all living and viable organisms (with a probability of 1 in1 million that 1 organism survived), and therefore is the most preferred treatment. Unfortunately due to the characteristics of the waste, sterilization is difficult to achieve and the waste must be decontaminated (to destroy or remove microorganisms to some lower level, not necessarily zero; thus significantly reducing the risk to individuals). Disinfection refers to the destruction of the most resistant vegetative microbes (or viruses), but it does not destroys spores in or on inanimate objects.
To help the research community, the University of Ottawa has developed a number of procedures which will assist in ensuring this waste is treated appropriately. The following links will address specific waste management issues:
- Sharps Waste Management Procedures
- Biomedical Waste Procedure
- Ethidium Bromide
- Request for Biomedical Waste Supplies