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Healthcare Waste: Is Medical Waste Exposure Dangerous?

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Healthcare activities generate a lot of waste, 85% of which is considered non-hazardous while 15% is hazardous. Hazardous waste may be toxic, infectious, and non-hazardous. Although there are medical waste management plans in most countries, the risk of exposure to medical waste is still high.

Most healthcare facilities don’t dispose their waste properly, and this exposes the public and garbage pickers to great risk. Improper disposal of healthcare waste leads to adverse human health and environmental impacts.

Health Risks

Healthcare waste that consists of sharps like syringes and needles is potentially dangerous for human health. When not disposed of properly, sharps can cause injuries.

It is estimated that about 16 billion injections are administered yearly. Unfortunately, used syringes are not properly disposed of which only resulted in the spread of infectious diseases like HIV, HCV, or HBV.

Waste handlers in low-income countries are more susceptible to needle-stick injuries. In particular, research shows that Hepatitis C is increasingly spreading among waste pickers because of exposure to used syringes.

Other hazards include exposure to pathological waste like blood, mucus, and tissues that are removed during autopsy or surgery. Exposure to these wastes due to improper disposal can be dangerous for human beings.

Impact on the Environment

When medical waste is incinerated at low temperatures, it releases toxic emissions that may contain dioxins and heavy metals. There is also a high likelihood that chemicals will be released into the environment if health wastes are treated with chemical disinfectants.

Also, untreated healthcare waste that is released in landfills that are poorly constructed can contaminate the surface and drinking water.


If not well managed, a significant amount of healthcare waste may pose great risks to human health and the environment. Therefore, there should be proper waste management plans to protect human health as well as the environment from exposure to hazardous waste.