Medical Sharps: Why Used Needles Are A Biohazard
It reads like satire or something out of a comic book.
One news article runs with the headline “It’s raining needles,” to open discussion about how used needles are a biohazard to children on playgrounds. One child even mistook one for a thermometer and put it in her mouth.
Another article highlighted a petition by Starbucks employees to bring safe syringe and hypodermic needle disposal options to the coffee shop to eliminate their fear while at work of being stuck with used syringes that had been discarded in the store bathrooms.
To help solve the crisis, needle exchange programs (which have been found to help reduce pollution) can now be found in more than 30 states.
It seems bizarre that something as small and seemingly insignificant as a needle could cause such a ruckus. It couldn’t possibly be that big of an issue, right?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes — yes, it is an issue, and yes, it deserves just such a ruckus.
Medical sharps, more specifically, used hypodermic needles and syringes, are a serious form of biohazardous waste that can have disastrous outcomes when not properly disposed of — both in your home or on the go.
The Definition of Medical Sharps and Why Used Needles Are a Biohazard
Biohazards in the home need to be eliminated as soon as possible. Human feces, blood-borne pathogens and other biological waste can present an unsafe environment for people, especially inside a home.
Biohazards are transmissible in a number of ways, including the obvious: touch, which is why biohazard cleanup is so important. Medical sharps are likely a form of biohazardous waste that most people who use them regularly won’t give a lot of thought to — but they should.
Every year, millions of people throughout the country use billions of sharps to manage medical conditions at home (for example, those with diabetes); safely disposing of used medical sharps should be an important public health priority. But how do you define a “medical sharp?”
Medical Sharps are syringes, hypodermic needles, needles attached to tubing, lancets, etc. Since sharps potentially have disease-carrying blood or other bodily fluids on them that can live on these objects for a while, they are capable of transferring that contaminated blood or fluid into anyone who unknowingly comes into contact with them.
Used needles are a biohazard — including insulin needles, vaccine syringes or those for recreational use — because they can result in “needlestick injuries,” as they are called, which creates a cut in the skin that allows contact between blood and fluids. Needlestick injuries have the potential to transmit infectious diseases, especially blood-borne viruses, including HIV, MRSA, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, among others.
Recreational injection drug use across the U.S. has increased in recent years as the misuse of prescription and synthetic opioids rages on. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sharing syringes is the second-riskiest behavior for contracting HIV, with more than 40% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 reporting sharing syringes in 2022.
To help slow the spread of injection-related infectious diseases, many states have implemented syringe or needle exchange programs, which offer safe disposal of used syringes, access to sterile needles and syringes, vaccination and testing, and substance use treatment resources.
Though the state of Alabama has the highest opioid dispensing rate in the country, the state is one of only 6 others that prohibits a needle exchange program.
What Are the Common Places Used Needles Are Found?
Used (and unused) needles can be found in both the medical setting and a residential setting, depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, they can also be found in other, less suspect places such as parks, public restrooms, beaches, abandoned buildings, rivers and even sidewalks.
Needlestick injuries are common occupational hazards for sanitation, housekeeping and janitorial workers, while children and pets are also often at risk for being stuck by improperly discarded used sharps.
Alabama Bio-Clean, Inc., typically finds medical sharps in residential settings improperly thrown into household garbage or trash piles. Sometimes, according to our founder and CEO Stuart Frandsen, properly disposing of a hypodermic needle or syringe in a home comes down to the health of the homeowner.
“Oftentimes, the elderly cannot make the trip to the mailbox to participate in a mail-back program,” Frandsen said. “Other times, mental health issues, such as dementia, hoarding tendencies or depression, can prevent proper disposal.
It’s important to remember though that once these sharps become layered in trash, they present a health and safety hazard to anyone helping clean the home or providing care.”
Where and How to Dispose of Used Syringes and Hypodermic Needles
Used needles are a biohazard, but they don’t have to be with the proper patience, knowledge and desire to make public safety and health a priority. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) offers a practical guide for the disposal of home medical waste, including sharps.
- To prevent injury, illness or pollution, follow these simple steps to dispose of used needles and other contaminated materials inside your residence.
- Place needles, syringes, lancets and other contaminated sharps in any puncture-resistant, resealable, disposable household container (such as an empty bleach bottle, laundry detergent bottle or metal coffee can).
- In marker, write “DO NOT RECYCLE” on the container, as used needles and other contaminated sharps are NOT recyclable.
- Once your container is full of used needles, fill the container with one part bleach solution and 10 parts of water. Allow the solution to soak for 20 minutes, which sterilizes your used sharps. Then pour the solution into the sink and seal the cap with tape.
- Dispose of the container in your regular household garbage.
If used needles are a biohazard in your home, but being able to properly dispose of them regularly is not an option, you can also find qualified sharps disposal locations near you by visiting SafeNeedleDisposal.org, clicking on your relevant state and entering your zip code.
Alabama Bio-Clean, Inc., Can Help You Dispose of Used Needles
As a top-rated biohazard and trauma cleaning company in Alabama, our technicians frequently encounter discarded, used sharps during hoarding cleanups, clandestine drug lab decontamination and chemical cleanup, and gross filth cleanings, among others. We are properly versed, trained, certified and knowledgeable in the safe removal and disposal of used hypodermic needles, syringes and other sharps.
We’ll remove the biohazardous waste from your property or business and take the proper, lawful steps to dispose of it, returning your environment to one that is once again safe to occupy. Call Alabama Bio-Clean, Inc., for your sharps disposal needs at 1-866-502-2916.