Can I Pour Barium Down the Drain?

Common Life Safety Code Deficiencies and Strategies for Compliance
Fire Safety for Healthcare Facilities

What is Barium?

Barium occurs naturally, but is manufactured for medical procedures. Barium has been used as a diagnostic contrast medium for almost a century in fluoroscopic procedures such as an Upper Gastrointestinal Series (UGI) or a Barium Enema (BE).  However, the appropriate method for Barium disposal continues to raise questions and create uncertainty in healthcare facilities.

After a UGI or BE, the Barium that remains in the colon is evacuated by the patient without consequence into the toilet. The questions about disposal relate to the Barium that remains in the cup or bottle or drained into the enema bag. Does it go down the drain? Does it go in a biohazard bag?

Who regulates Barium use and disposal?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under 29 CFR 1910, Subpart Z, the form of Barium used in radiology as Barium Sulfate is listed under Materials Regulated by OSHA as Toxic and Hazardous Substance. OSHA defines a ‘toxic substance’ as any substance that can cause injury or illness, or which is suspected of being able to cause injury or illness under some conditions and a ‘hazard’ as the inherent capacity of a substance to cause an adverse effect.   Although Barium Sulfate is considered a hazardous substance, it is not considered a hazardous drug regulated by the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Barium Sulfate is not considered a hazardous waste unless at very high concentrations. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)  states that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for developing regulations on safe management and cleanup of solid and hazardous waste.  The EPA’s regional environmental agencies include several states that oversee these federal regulations.

What is the proper method of disposal?

Regardless of the concentration, Barium Sulfate should never be incinerated due to its air toxicity. Keep in mind that biohazard bags are generally incinerated, so don’t toss the Barium in a red bag. Due to its insolubility in water, Barium Sulfate should not be poured down the drain.

Simply, Barium Sulfate should be disposed of as a non-hazardous waste in accordance with state laws.  Always check the Safety Data Sheet under Section 13 for any Disposal Considerations.

If you are still unsure about the proper disposal of any chemical in your workplace, your medical waste hauler may serve as a helpful resource.  Check out the informative webinar, Understanding Your Medical Waste, by First Healthcare Compliance’s valued partner, ChoiceMedWaste.

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