Originally published September 25 2014
US hospitals are unprepared to handle Ebola-contaminated waste
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) If Ebola ever makes it to the U.S. unannounced, very few hospitals, if any, have the right tools in place to properly handle it. This isn't necessarily because they don't have enough beds or protective equipment, but rather because they don't have a suitable or legal way to properly dispose of the resultant medical waste.
Emory University Hospital in Atlanta recently ran into this problem after treating two U.S. missionaries who contracted Ebola while working in West Africa. The hospital began accumulating as many as 40 bags of medical waste per day that it kept in a special containment area until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave further instruction as to how to handle it.
Initially, the hospital's waste management company, Stericycle, refused to dispose of all the medical waste, citing the threat of contamination. As it continued to pile up, the CDC was eventually able to form an agreement with Stericycle to handle it, but this arrangement technically violates Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines for handling so-called "regulated medical waste."
CDC says treat Ebola like other infectious agents; DOT says not a chance The problem lies in CDC guidelines that clash with DOT guidelines, the latter of which recognize Ebola as a Category A agent, or one that is potentially life-threatening. Items in this category can't be in a form that have the potential to harm humans, unless they are specially packaged and appropriate hazmat training is given to those handling it.
But CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told the media that the agency isn't aware of any packaging that is legally approved for handling Ebola waste. The agency simply advises hospitals to package Ebola waste in leak-proof containers and handle it the same way as they do other recognized biohazards, which waste management companies say violates DOT's regulatory guidelines.
At Emory, one of the solutions to this problem was to bring in an autoclave, which uses pressurized steam to kill any lingering infectious agents that might be present on the waste before hauling it off for disposal. But few hospitals have access to an autoclave, which leaves many of them without a way to legally dispose of Ebola waste, should it ever come to that.
"For this reason, it would be very difficult for a hospital to agree to care for Ebola cases," stated Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Public Health Committee, to Reuters. "[T]his desperately needs a fix."
CDC asks EPA to weigh in on how to dispose of Ebola waste The CDC is reportedly working with the DOT to come up with an official solution to the dilemma. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spokesman Joe Delcambre could not confirm whether or not the sterilization method used by Emory is effective enough, but both agencies are now in consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with a final solution.
Until then, National Waste & Recycling Association Communication Director Thomas Metzger says his group's members are "bound by those regulations," meaning they can't legally haul away Ebola waste without a concrete regulatory change.
"This waste should be irradiated," wrote one commenter on Counsel & Heal. "Irradiation would be the best method."
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