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Here are two (2) articles about the Autoclave process and Regulated Waste Disposal by means of Autoclave. For more information please contact an IQE representative.
Autoclaves are closed chambers that apply both heat and pressure, and sometimes steam, over a period of time to sterilize medical equipment. Autoclaves have been used for nearly a century to sterilize medical instruments for re-use. Autoclaves are used to destroy all microorganism that may be present in medical waste before disposal in a traditional landfill. The autoclave raises the pressure within the chamber, which shortens the amount of time required to generate steam.
Medical waste that is subjected to an autoclave is often also subjected to a compaction process, such as shredding, after treatment so that it is no longer recognizable and cannot be re-used for other purposes. The compaction process reduces the volume of the treated waste significantly. After treatment and compaction, the treated waste can be combined with general waste and disposed of in traditional manners. Waste that is treated using an autoclave is still recognizable after treatment, and therefore must be shredded after treatment to allow for disposal with general waste. Autoclaves are not recommended for the treatment of pathological waste, due to the recognizability factor after treatment, and that pathological waste may contain low levels of radioactive material or cytotoxic compounds. The autoclave process can aerosolize chemicals present in the waste and depending on the design of the autoclave, these chemicals can be released into the air when the autoclave is opened.
Autoclaves can be used to process up to 90% of medical waste, and are easily scaled to meet the needs of any medical organization. Small counter-top autoclaves are often used for sterilizing reusable medical instruments. Large autoclaves are used to treat large volumes of medical waste at once. Steam sterilization provides generators a way to treat waste in a cost-efficient manner.
Using a well-tested technology that already treats a large portion of regulated medical waste (RMW) generated by hospitals, waste-handling autoclaves can safely be called a mature technology. Despite the equipment's lengthy history, however, vendors are still adding features to make RMW autoclaves safer and more efficient.
"The technology is tried and true. It works," says Laura Brannen, senior associate, materials and waste management prevention strategies, Mazzetti, San Francisco. "Recent improvements in technology have been in the handling of the waste. The equipment once was loaded manually. Today's systems are more automated. Material is conveyed directly into waste compactors."
Autoclaving still has limitations, according to Brannen. It does not take care of such hazardous materials as chemical waste, pharmaceutical waste and chemotherapy waste. However, autoclave technology continues to dominate the market because it is "approved by rule" in most states and the process is well-understood.
"Autoclave processing of RMW is economical and effective when properly managed. It is also safe, both in terms of operation and environmental impact," says Timothy Barrett, vice president and COO, OnSite Sterilization LLC, Pottstown, Pa. "Autoclave processing on-site allows hospitals to better control waste streams, reduces risks associated with the transportation of potentially infectious waste, and eliminates the cost and environmental impact of trucking."
Back in the 1990s, thousands of medical waste incinerators were used by hospitals. In 1995, Congress issued reports stating that incinerated medical waste was releasing mercury and dioxins into the atmosphere. That triggered a major shift in thinking.
After Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1997, thousands of incinerators were forced to shut down nationwide, says Angel Aguiar, PE, vice president, Bondtech Corp., Somerset, Ky. Various non-incineration technologies then entered the market to fill the necessary capacity to replace the shuttered incinerators.