Ebola pushes handling, transport of infectious medical waste into spotlight

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 10/3/2014

Concerns about the Ebola virus are prompting the Centers for Disease Control and federal regulators to issue new guidance on the handling and transport of infectious materials. While some see it as clarification for an already strict guideline, others are concerned the guidance may not go far enough to protect the public.

The CDC and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration are preparing to update guidance concerning Ebola and the handling of materials that come into contact with the virus.

The CDC issued interim guidance on Aug. 1, but that was before the first case of Ebola was diagnosed on American soil involving a patient who had traveled to Dallas from the African country of Liberia.

Ebola, an infectious disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding, has been spreading in West African countries.

A group called the Healthcare Coalition for Emergency Preparedness is concerned about the pending guidance for those who handle materials in the U.S. The coalition’s executive director, Darrell Henry, stated in a letter to PHMSA that the Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas that treated the Ebola patient was not equipped to sterilize infected materials and transported the materials by truck to another facility – something his group is against.

“Disinfecting waste onsite instead of trucking it across the city will instead help promote confidence in our health system and government agencies’ ability to protect the public,” Henry stated in the letter dated Thursday, Oct. 2.

The haulers of medical waste were also waiting to see what the updated guidance says. Anne Germain, spokeswoman for the National Waste & Recycling Association, says members of her association handle and transport medical waste from source to destination.

“Our members have been working very closely with the CDC and the Department of Transportation in figuring out what the rules are in handling this material,” Germain told “Land Line Now” on Sirius XM.

“We’ve come pretty close, and we expect that in the next couple of days we’ll have definitive answers from them and will be able to handle the materials in a way that everybody agrees will be safe for the public and to meet all the regulations.”

Germain said the haulers of medical waste are trained according to the most up-to-date standards and regulations.

“They are trained to handle medical waste all the time, from hospitals to other facilities,” she said. “Ebola is considered Category A material, so we want to be extra cautious with the material to make sure we follow all the regulations.”

Germain says the regulations are already quite strict.

“It’s a matter of being able to understand what the regulations mean – what is meant by certain terms – and how we can satisfy those terms,” she said.

On Friday afternoon, Oct. 3, Reuters reported that the CDC and PHMSA were on the verge of issuing a permit or waiver concerning the handling of Ebola materials.

“Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this story.

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