When New York City police officers were observed disposing of their gloves in a public trash can after attending to the city’s first Ebola case, it raised the question: where does that medical waste go, anyway?
As it turns out, the policemen had been on duty outside of Ebola patient Craig Spencer’s apartment and their protective wear wasn’t considered a threat, but with a number of confirmed cases now being treated in the United States, we now have bona-fide biohazard waste to contend with.
How dangerous are the gloves and suits that have come into contact with the body fluids of an infected person? There has only been one laboratory study addressing the matter, and it found that under ideal environmental conditions, Ebola could remain active for up to six days.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the “inactivation” or incineration of Ebola-associated waste within a hospital is permissible, though subject to state, local and OSHA regulations. Such waste may be inactivated through the use of appropriate autoclaves, or it may be incinerated. Once the waste has been appropriately incinerated or autoclaved, it is not infectious and is not considered to be regulated medical waste or hazardous material under federal law. But most American hospitals don’t have incinerators or large enough autoclaves to decontaminate the amount of linens and other waste associated with Ebola patients, said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Public Health Committee, in a interview with Newsweek.
When the waste materials are to be disposed of off-site, they become subject to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Hazardous Materials Regulations. Waste contaminated (or suspected to be contaminated) with Ebola virus is a Category A infectious substance regulated as a hazardous material under these rules. For off-site commercial transport of Ebola-associated waste, the DOT requires special procedures for disinfecting and packing the materials and the disposal company must hold a permit to handle the waste.
Thus far, the DOT has issued five "non-site-specific" special permits to companies for handling waste related to the Ebola virus. Under the permits, the five companies are not limited on where they can pick up Ebola-related waste or dispose of it, reports Reuters.
Advanced Environmental Options account manager Dana West confirmed that her company is one of those that received a DOT permit for handling Ebola waste.
They have had two special training sessions for employees on how to handle and treat the Ebola waste. It is to be disinfected, put in a red "bio bag," disinfected again, then placed into another bag which is disinfected, then put in a 55-gallon watertight drum containing disinfectant that is sealed and disinfected once again. The waste must then be incinerated.
West said the employees have also been trained on what equipment to wear.
"We wanted to be as prepared and ready as possible for an Ebola event," she said. "If we're prepared, it reduces the risks that proper procedures won't be followed.
"Frankly we've handled much worse than Ebola before," West added. "We feel pretty confident that with the way things are proceeding, we'll never have to use this permit."