Dr Kent Brantley who was treated for Ebola at Emory. Photo: Reuters

Many hospitals may not be aware of the Federal guidelines that prevent waste disposal contractors removing any waste products that may be contaminated with Ebola. Experts fear this could cause huge problems should Ebola get to the United States.

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta treated both the US missionaries that were infected with Ebola. Stericycle, their contracted waste removal company refused to remove anything that had been in contact with the patients, citing Federal regulations.

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With up to 40 bags of Ebola contaminated clinical waste a day being produced, staff at Emory had to use their own initiative to deal with the issue.

Emory Hospital staff were despatched to Home Depot and instructed to buy as many 32 gallon rubber waste barrels with lids as they could get their hands on. They then packed the waste into the barrels and kept them in a containment area for SIX DAYS until the problem was resolved.

“Our waste management obstacles and the logistics we had to put in place were amazing,” Patricia Olinger, director of environmental health and safety at Emory, said in an interview.

The CDC stepped in and eventually Stericycle removed the waste. The issue has occurred because of Department of Transport rules on how Category A clinical waste can be transported and who it can be transported by.

Category A waste requires special packaging and those moving the waste, and transporting it has to have full Hazmat training. The CDC state there is no recommended packaging that is no packaging that is currently approved for transporting Ebola waste and this is what lead to Stericycle refusing to handle the waste materials.

The Emory University Hospital was able to sterilize all the waste in a massive autoclave before handing it over to Stericycle for incineration…but very few hospitals have the ability to do this on site, which leads back to the transportation issues.

“For this reason, it would be very difficult for a hospital to agree to care for Ebola cases – this desperately needs a fix,” said Dr Jeffrey Duchin, chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Public Health Committee.

Dr Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, an expert on public health preparedness at Pennsylvania State University, said there’s “no way in the world” that US hospitals are ready to treat patients with highly infectious diseases like Ebola. (my emphasis)

The Department of Transport and The National Waste Recycling Association are in talks with the CDC in an attempt to resolve the situation but in the meantime both groups insist they are bound by the regulations.

If two patients generate 40 bags a day of infectious waste you can imagine what 20 patients would generate, or 200…

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