PTCB Test Prep

PTCB Guide to Hazardous Materials.

Jun 9th, 2024
ptcb guide to hazardous materials

Hazardous Materials in the Workplace

Pharmacy technicians frequently work with cytotoxic drugs.

As the name suggests, these drugs are toxic to cells in the body and are typically used in the treatment of cancer. Many of these medicines harm both healthy and harmful cells; they do not differentiate. However, some anticancer drugs have more specific targets and largely do not harm healthy cells.

But these drugs carry with them additional risks. Touching or inhaling these drugs – for example – can be actively harmful to the body, so additional precautions are taken to prevent this prospective source of workplace harm.

Special handling procedures are in place to ensure that these risks are minimized. Before working with cytotoxic drugs, technicians must be trained to meet these strict procedural standards.

Technicians must be trained to handle hazardous materials in terms of:

  • Storage
  • Labeling
  • Transport
  • Disposal
  • How to manage workplace accidents, such as spills

There are several ways in which these risks are minimized. For instance, working with cytotoxic drugs is typically conducted in BSCs – or Biological Safety Cabinets. BSCs eliminate exposure to biohazards through an enclosed, ventilated environment that protects the technician, the surrounding environment, and the materials being handled, from contamination. BSCs are fitted with HEPA filters to maximize this outcome.

Cytotoxic Drug Disposal

Cytotoxic drugs must be disposed of safely and according to the standard operating protocol (SOP).

That means disposing the drugs in a waste container that cannot easily leak or break. It must also contain the cytotoxic symbol – which is a capital C with the word “Cytotoxic” written underneath:

cytotoxic logo

Lids should never be left open, nor ajar – and to anticipate the possibility of a leak, the container must have an absorbent pad underneath.

Note that any waste directly or indirectly linked to cytotoxic drugs must be disposed in the same container. This includes PPE (see below) that was used in the preparation of the product, as well as any other materials that will come into contact with the drug in the future – for instance, drug bags, soiled incontinence briefs, and tubing.

Contaminated needles must be disposed of in the relevant sharp’s container (most sharp’s containers are red). Note that biohazardous material and cytotoxic materials are not the same thing, and so they must be disposed in separate containers. Cytotoxic materials refer to drugs or substances that can actively harm cells and are typically drugs used in chemotherapy. Biohazardous material includes all other sources of potential harm – such as contaminated needles, blood etc.

sharps container

Given the health risks of hazardous waste, it must be incinerated at certain minimum temperatures. Typically, hazardous waste must be burned at least 1600° – 2500 °F.

PPE and Handwashing Technique

PPE, or personal protective equipment, helps minimize handling risks.

PPE used in the preparation of cytotoxic drugs include:

  • Gowns – disposable, long-sleeve gowns which, ideally, are hypoallergenic.
  • Gloves – typically double-layered to prevent hands from coming into direct contact with chemotherapy agents.
  • Masks – respiratory protection can be provided by a variety of masks – from N95 masks to surgical masks.
  • Eye protection – goggles or face shields to protect the eyes from aerosolized particles.
  • Hair covers – disposable caps that prevent cytotoxic particles from entering hair.
  • Shoe covers – disposable covers that prevent cytotoxic substances from leaving the area in which the materials are being prepared.

The precise PPE chosen will depend on the cytotoxic materials being prepared and the degree of risk that comes with those materials. Pharmacy technicians must also apply isopropyl alcohol (IPA) where appropriate, given that it acts as both a disinfectant and an antiseptic.

Similarly, technicians must be trained to apply the correct handwashing technique to ensure that all surfaces and indents of the hands are totally cleaned.

Tutorial Review

Over the course of this PTCB guide to hazardous materials, we reviewed some of the core detail you are expected to know for the pharmacy technician exam.

In summary, we learned:

  • The definition of what constitutes a cytotoxic drug.
  • The steps taken to minimize risk – from the use of BSCs to HEPA filters.
  • How hazardous waste is disposed safely.
  • The temperature at which hazardous waste must be incinerated.
  • The difference between biohazardous waste and cytotoxic waste.
  • PPE and correct handwashing technique.

Note that you will not be tested on chemotherapy drugs in significant detail. Only a small number of anticancer drugs are likely to be tested – such as platinum-based drugs (cisplatin) or drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer (such as trastuzumab).

Similarly, the focus on hazardous materials is not intended to be studied in detail other than the basic, essential knowledge that pharmacy technicians are likely to come across in the workplace.

We hope you found this review into hazardous materials helpful. Check back to our PTCB blog soon for more exclusive content to help to study and pass the pharmacy technician exam.

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PTCB Test Prep Author


Elaine Walker

Elaine joined PTCB Test Prep in 2017, currently serving as the lead product development manager overseeing both course development and quality improvement. Mrs. Walker is a graduate of California State University and has worked as a pharmacy technician for over twenty years – with particular interests in pediatric pharmacy, extemporaneous compounding, and hospital pharmacy. Over the past 8-years, she has helped prepare thousands of students for the PTCB examination.