What Are Biohazard Containers?

In basic terms, biohazard containers are receptacles utilized to dispose of certain types of waste potentially contaminated with what are known as pathogens. These pathogens present a hazard to people, other living things, and the environment more generally. Biohazard containers are of a specified color (usually red) and contain a warning symbol alerting of the potential presence of waste containing pathogens.

What Are Pathogens?

Understanding pathogens is an inherent part of obtaining appropriate knowledge about biohazard containers. The basic definition of the term “pathogen” is “a biological agent that causes disease or illness to a human (or other living organism).” Pathogens are also referred to as “infectious agents” or even “germs.”

Pathogens come in a number of different forms:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi
  • Algae
  • Parasites
  • Prions

Bacteria are not all dangerous. In fact, only a very small fraction of bacteria is pathogenic. The human body is filled with billions of bacteria which serve a useful purpose. Pathogenic bacteria can cause disease and illness. Some of the more commonplace diseases caused by dangerous bacteria include:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Tetanus
  • Syphilis
  • Various foodborne illnesses

Viruses also are capable of causing different types of diseases. Unlike bacteria, antibiotics do not treat and resolve viral infections. Rather, the symptoms are treated. In some cases, viral infections do resolve. In others, a person ends up with a lifelong infection that in some cases can be manageable. In regard to some viruses, there are vaccines available that can prevent infection. Examples of diseases caused by viruses include:

  • Influenza or flu
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • HIV

Fungi can cause conditions like vaginal yeast infections, athlete’s foot, thrush (yeast infection in the mouth or throat), and ringworm. There are some types of algae that are capable of causing infections and illness in humans. One example is Prototheca algae. 

Parasites are yet another example of pathogens that biohazard containers are utilized to protect against. These include organisms like amoeba that can get into a person’s system and cause illness.

Finally, prions are defined as “misfolded proteins.” In other words, these are defective proteins that can cause harm to a person. Prions do not replicate themselves. Rather, they cause other proteins in a person’s body to misfold or become defective. In turn, this can result in serious and even deadly illnesses that include mad cow disease.

Types of Biohazard Containers

There are different types of biohazard containers depending on what types of waste are intended to be disposed of. One category of biohazardous waste involves sharps, including used hypodermic needles. The type of biohazard container utilized for sharps needs to be made of sharp plastic, a type of material through which sharps cannot penetrate or poke through. Biohazardous material that doesn’t involve sharps can be placed in durable plastic bags designed for the disposal of this type of waste. 

No matter the type of biohazard container being utilized, it must be designed in a manner that permits it to close securely. Moreover, and as was mentioned previously, a biohazard container must be red in color and marked with the biohazardous material warning symbol.

Biohazard Symbol

As noted previously, a biohazard container must bear an appropriate warning symbol. There is a virtually universal symbol used in most countries around the world, including the United States. At this juncture in time, the biohazard symbol is widely recognizable. 

The symbol is designed to include four circles. The circles are not intended for decoration but have specific purposes. The circles stand for the chain of infection, how people can become infected by exposure to a biohazard. The circles stand for these elements of the chain of infection:

  • Agent: type of microorganism that causes infection or a hazardous condition
  • Host: type of organism that the microorganism infects
  • Source: host from which the microorganism originates (a source may or may not display signs or symptoms of infection)
  • Transmission: means a pathogen is conveyed from source to host

Transport of Biohazard Containers

Different U.S. states have regulations regarding who may engage in biohazard cleanup, biohazardous waste transport, and biohazard waste disposal. The same holds true in the state of California. For example, specific state certification may not be necessary for biohazard cleanup; however, those involved in biohazard cleaning necessarily undergo appropriate training to protect their own safety and the safety of others. On the other hand, biohazard waste transport and biohazard material disposal companies do need appropriate certification. 

Biohazardous waste collected at a residence during a biohazard cleaning operation needs to promptly be transported to a proper disposal company. This type of waste generally cannot be stored in locations not specifically designated to maintain biohazardous materials.