As a distributor of laboratory autoclave sterilizers, which can be used for decontamination of biowaste to prevent dispersal of biohazardous material, we have been closely monitoring developments with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2), also known as COVID-19.
Handling, processing, and disposal of waste thought to be infected with coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2), including but not limited to coronavirus (COVID-19) Real-Time PCR assays (testing kits) require strict adherence to laboratory biosafety protocol as outlined by organizations including the WHO (World Health Organization), CDC (Center for Disease Control) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Please find select information and resources on laboratory biosafety related to the proper sterilization and disposal of waste containing coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2) specimens, PCR Assays (testing kits) and other disposable items used in coronavirus (COVID-19) laboratory research and testing.
Autoclaves and Safe Disposal of Laboratory Biowaste
As outlined in numerous guidelines covering the safe disposal of laboratory biowaste, the use of autoclave sterilizers to deactivate pathogens and decontaminate potentially infectious waste prior to disposal is integral in preventing the spread of disease to laboratory workers, waste management personnel and the general public.
The importance of biowaste sterilization is reflected in the core facility design requirements in the WHO’s Laboratory biosafety guidance related to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which states that “appropriate methods for the decontamination of waste, for example, disinfectants and autoclaves, must be available in proximity to the laboratory.”¹
As a fundamental objective of biosafety programs to contain potentially harmful pathogens, in the CDC’s Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, it is recommended that laboratories of all BSLs (biosafety levels) not only create secondary barriers which include separating laboratory work areas from public access, making available decontamination facilities (e.g., autoclave), and handwashing facilities.²
Managing Waste Associated with Coronavirus (COVID-19)
For laboratories handling specimens potentially containing coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2), one of the most critical biosafety tasks is managing waste that includes but not limited to real-time PCR assays (test kits) and other disposables including gloves, pipette tips, and vessels containing specimens. Noting the principle that all samples should be handled as if they are infectious³, following the proper biosafety precautions includes the decontamination of all waste that has come into contact with all specimens prior to disposal.
At Biosafety Level (BSL) 2, the advised level for handling and processing of COVID-19 test specimens potentially containing coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2)⁴, numerous sources cite the use of autoclaves and other decontamination methods to treat biowaste before disposal.
In Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the CDC instructs “handle laboratory waste from testing suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient specimens as all other biohazardous waste in the laboratory.”⁵ According to CDC BSL 2 guidelines, all laboratory waste, including all cultures, stocks, and other potentially infectious materials should be treated via autoclave, chemical disinfection, incineration, or other validated decontamination methods before disposal.⁶
In some cases, guidelines explicitly endorse the use of autoclaves to treat laboratory waste before disposal, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA, which clearly states on its COVID-19 safety guideline page to “use an autoclave to inactivate infectious material in all waste prior to disposal.”⁷
Autoclaves for Biosafety in Waste Management
As outlined, numerous guidelines endorse the use of autoclaves to inactivate potentially infectious laboratory waste prior to disposal, as part of creating secondary barriers that prevent the infectious disease from spreading to laboratory workers, waste management personnel, and the general public. When moving to a higher BSL, the proximity of autoclaves moves from within the facility, to within the laboratory to being a double-door pass-through autoclave adjacent to a Class III biological safety cabinet.⁸
This positive relationship between higher safety needs and the proximity of the autoclave may suggest that the closer an autoclave is to the area in which potentially infectious pathogens are being handled, the safer it is in preventing the potential spread of the virus within and outside the laboratory and potentially infecting countless individuals.
Laboratories in immediate need of a primary or secondary autoclave may be interested in learning about TOMY top-loading autoclaves. Due to their compact size, portability, a setup that requires no installation and ability to operate anywhere in proximity to a source of power, they can be placed next to a biosafety cabinet or at the end of a workbench in any laboratory.
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