medical waste washing ashore

Medical Waste Washing Ashore: Who’s In Charge of Regulation?

Earlier this month, Durban, South Africa, the country’s second largest city, was forced to shut down four of its most popular beaches due to piles of medical waste and general debris washing ashore.

South Africa is now in a frenzied rush to find who (and mort specifically what landfill) is responsible for this monstrosity.

But as we read up on Durban’s news, we were reminded of a story from almost 30 years ago and the resulting regulations. Thus we began to wonder, who really is in charge of regulating our country’s medical waste?

The following story comes from a 2o11 article on

The Syringe Tide, 1987-88

Medical waste washing up on New Jersey beaches was a big problem in the late 1980s, closing beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the New Jersey shore. For months, officials  scrambled to figure out where the waste was coming from, and eventually zeroed in on New York City’s Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Below-par systems there were not successfully containing medical waste and other garbage, and thus NJ beaches (as well as vacationers and business owners) were paying the price. Although no one was injured or exposed to disease by the washed up waste, the public was especially alarmed given the HIV/AIDS crisis gripping the nation at that time. NYC was required to pay $1 million for past pollution damages and had to shoulder the cost of clean-up on Jersey Shore beaches, as well.

The resulting loss of tourism cost business owners throughout the affected region as much as 40 percent of their revenue, with total losses estimated at well over $1 billion. Some New Jersey business owners remain upset that New York wasn’t forced to pay them reparations for lost revenue as well.

The Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988

In the wake of the Syringe Tide scare, Congress enacted the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988, requiring the EPA to create a program to better track medical waste from cradle-to-grave, so that it didn’t end up fouling beaches or any other environments. Though the program was not renewed when it expired in 1991, it served as a model for how states and municipalities could better track potentially dangerous medical waste, while also helping medical facilities institute processes for knowing where their waste was going and that it was being disposed of responsibly.

Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey have since coordinated on setting up and maintaining their own systems to stem the so-called “syringe tides.” The cornerstone is a multi-agency program designed to intercept debris within New Jersey Harbor before it can get to tourist-crowded Jersey Shore beaches. Thanks to the plan—which relies on surveillance by environmental groups as well as routine and special clean-up sweeps by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the implementation of a communications network to facilitate the reporting of incidents and quick responses—beach closures declined from more than 70 miles in 1988 to less than four miles in 1989, with closures remaining at similarly low levels ever since.

Of course, medical waste is hardly the only problem facing America’s beaches and coastal waters. According to the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), bacterial contamination from sewage treatment outflows, contaminated storm water and other sources caused more than 24,000 beach closures or advisories across the country in 2010 alone. NRDC reports on water quality at U.S. beaches every year in its series of “Testing the Waters” reports. Pressure from the group has helped spur the EPA to agree to overhaul Clean Water Act regulations pertaining to urban and suburban storm water runoff and update decades-old beach water quality standards by 2012. These improvements should help to keep beaches from the Jersey Shore to the Great Lakes to California, and points in between, clear of debris and safe for swimmers and sunbathers of every stripe.


medical waste market

The Five Treatments Fueling the Medical Waste Market

A new study from Transparency Market Research (TMR), a market intelligence company, says that the technical developments resulting in the adoption of non-incineration technologies and the increasing government regulation and legislations globally are amongst the chief factors fueling the medical waste market.

In addition, the expansion of the healthcare industry globally and the increasing count of off-site treatment methods have also impacted the market positively. So, we know that healthcare activities are aimed at curing patients, protecting the health of individuals, and saving lives.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 85% of the total amount of waste generated through healthcare activities is general and non-hazardous in nature. But, these healthcare activities also generate waste which may aid the spread of infectious diseases or cause injuries. Thus, the remaining 15% is hazardous material that may be radioactive or toxic in nature.

Poor waste management may jeopardize patients and their families, employees handling medical waste, care staff and the others who come in contact with it, and even result in pollution or environmental contamination. However, these risks can be significantly reduced using appropriate and simple measures. A number of new technologies have also penetrated the market to make this job easier. The working of these waste management systems has been elaborated below:

Treatments Fueling the Medical Waste Market

1. Incineration Technology

Incineration comprises a very high-temperature, thermal process and allows combustion of waste in controlled conditions to convert it into inert gases and materials. Incinerators often are either electrically powered, oil-fired, or a combination of both. Incinerators utilized for hospital waste management are of three main types, namely: controlled air, multiple hearth, or rotary kiln. All of these incinerators comprise both primary, as well as secondary, combustion chambers for ensuring an optimal combustion.

  • Controlled Air – commonly used for waste with organic matter, this process combusts and oxidizes waste, leading to a stream of gas with a CO2 and water vapor mixture
  • Multiple Hearth – a circular steel furnace containing solid refractory hearths with a central rotating shaft converts waste into ash
  • Rotary Kiln – a drum-shaped incinerator commonly used for medical and hazardous waste

Non-Incineration Technology:

This treatment incorporates four key processes, namely: chemical, thermal, biological, and irradiative. Non-incineration technologies majorly employee chemical, as well as thermal processes. The key aim of this treatment technology is the decontamination of waste by destroying of the pathogens.

2. Irradiation (i.e. Microwave)

Microwave Irradiation is based upon the principle of generating high-frequency waves inside of a microwave (no, not a real microwave oven). The waves cause the vibration of the particles present within the waste material and thus generate heat (but just like a microwave oven). The heat generated from this wave will kill all bacteria present or any other contamination in the tools.

3. Chemical and Plasma Pyrolysis

Chemical decontamination is primarily used for microbiology lab waste, human blood, sharps and bodily fluids, but cannot be used for anatomical waste (i.e. body parts).

Plasma Pyrolysis is state-of-the-art technology that might just be the most eco-friendly technology on the list, converting organic waste into by-products, which are then commercially used. The extreme heat generated by plasma results in the disposal of all kinds of wastes including biomedical waste, municipal solid waste, and hazardous waste in a reliable and safe manner.

4. Biological

This method employs enzymes to destroy organic matters found in medical waste. But while this sounds great, few non-incineration technologies have been based on this biological method. In fact,  this enzyme breakdown process is vastly underdeveloped and rarely every used.

5. Autoclaving

Autoclaving, a rather well-known process now, works on the principle of a standard pressure cooker and involves the utilization of heat at extremely high temperatures. The steam generated at these high temperatures kills all microorganisms in the medical waste. Autoclaving is of three main types, namely: pre-vacuum, retort, and gravity. Autoclaving is often used for bodily fluid waste, sharps, and microbiology lab waste.

The market for medical waste management is poised to experience exponential growth owing to a plethora of treatment technologies available in the market for medical waste management. However, the soaring costs of initial investments of these technologies may have a negative impact on the growth of the market.


The market for medical waste management is poised to experience exponential growth owing to a plethora of treatment technologies available in the market for medical waste management. However, the soaring costs of initial investments of these technologies may have a negative impact on the growth of the market.


Medical Waste Disposal – The Definitive Guide

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