What is Radioactive Waste?

What is Radioactive Waste?

Medical waste is a regular part of providing healthcare in hospitals, medical clinics, dental offices, and even veterinary practices. Waste created by the medical industry can be broken down into 4 main categories: general medical waste, infectious medical waste, hazardous medical waste, and radioactive medical waste. Each type requires different handling and disposal methods.

Proper handling and disposal is critical in preventing exposure to disease, avoiding injuries, and protecting the environment. On top of provider and patient safety, safe handling also ensures compliance with OSHA and HIPAA regulations. Appropriate compliance training programs and licensed medical waste services will mitigate risk for your organization and help keep your community safe. 

Radioactive Medical Waste

Radioactive medical waste is a common waste stream found in hospitals and health treatment facilities. It is considered hazardous because it emits radioactive particles that can be harmful to humans and the environment. Radionuclides can emit radiation for a few seconds or for many years. 

Typically, radioactive waste comes from radiation therapy or nuclear medicine treatments, but it can come in many different forms from a variety of generators. Medical equipment, clothing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and biological materials can become radioactive waste.

Handling Radioactive Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) typically considers radioactive medical waste a “low-level waste.” This means that the waste contains small concentrations of radionuclides. Guidelines for handling this waste varies from state to state and even across departments. Guidelines generally follow these instructions:

Radioactive waste should never be discarded in a regular trash can.

  • Segregate radioactive waste and place it in clearly marked containers. Any sharps or needles should be placed in a separate sharps container. 
  • Radioactive waste should be secured and removal should be restricted to authorized personnel only.
  • Some radioactive waste can be allowed to decay naturally if accompanied by compliant and accurate records. 

Disposing of Radioactive Waste

Emitted radiation is measured in half-life. Half-life is defined as the time required for half of the radioactive atoms in the radionuclide to decay. Different isotopes have different half-lives. For example, Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days, whereas Coblat-60 has a half-life of 5,271 years. 

When segregating radioactive waste, those containing different isotopes should be collected in separate bags and bins. The container must be labelled with the name of the isotope, the level of radioactive activity, and the date it was first monitored. 

The most common disposal process for radioactive medical waste is delay/decay processes. Waste is generally stored for 10 half-lives of the isotope or until 0.1% of radioactivity remains. In rare cases, incineration or concentration/containment processes can be used. 

Learn More about Safe Handling of Medical Waste with Medical Waste Pros

Medical Waste Pros keeps you in compliance with medical waste disposal services, HIPAA training, and other compliance programs. Our experienced and knowledgeable team provides resources focused on safety and efficient medical waste management. Call us at 855-755-6370 or fill out the form to learn more and receive free quotes on our services and programs today. We will be in contact with you within minutes.