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Tracking seaside medical wastes.

Tracking seaside medical wastes

After hypodermic needles washed up on East Coast beaches last summer, 22 states enacted new infectious waste laws or regulations and Congress passed the Federal Medical Waste Tracking Act. But a waste industry group says those efforts probably won't do much to prevent "syringes on the sand." The reason: Most of this medical waste didn't come from hospitals or other medical facilities, the primary targets of regulatory efforts. A report issued last month by the National Solid Wastes Management Association says dsposable syringes represented the bulk of the medical wastes found, and most of those probably came from diabetics or intravenous drug abusers.

Sewer system overflows and U.S. Navy vessels also contributed beach medical waste, says Leslie Legg, who prepared the report for the Washington, D.C.-based trade association.

"We feel that future regulations should address the proper management of medical waste from all sources, including households," Legg says. Such regulations could call for separate packaging of potentially infectious medical wastes from patients' homes for disposal by health care providers, she adds.

The volume of hospital waste getting special handling has increased since 1987, when the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta upgraded its "universal precautions" and urged health care providers to treat as infectious any material contaminated with blood or body fluids. Robert Peters, manager of the association's Biomedical Waste Treatment Institute, says those precautions have increased the average amount of hospital waste managed as infectious from an estimated 3 to 4 percent to 30 percent. Some hospitals have apparently interpreted the regulations stringently, handling 70 to 90 percent of their debris as infectious, according to a 1988 Office of Technology Assessment report.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 16, 1989
Words:280
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