Bird is the Word

In October, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) released its new white paper, “Avian Influenza: The Hunt and Peck for Answers.”

“The paper was prepared to provide information about avian influenza for purposes of waste management, including some basic information about the disease, what scientists know about how it spreads and currently available waste management options,” says NSWMA President and CEO Bruce Parker. “NSWMA plays a key role in keeping the waste industry and others informed about current issues, even if they have not yet impacted daily operations.”

“There is a lot of talk and written material about avian influenza, but experts are just beginning to focus on management of carcasses and other contaminated materials, such as feces and bedding,” says Ed Repa, director of environmental programs for NSWMA and author of the paper.

In the document, Repa explains that there are a number of influenza viruses, but the one the World Health Organization (WHO) is most concerned about is H5N1, which has already spread to birds in 48 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The spread of the virus via person-to-person contact has been limited.

The highly lethal form of the disease is difficult to miss because of its sudden onset, rapid spread throughout a flock and high mortality rates (almost 100 percent) within 48 hours.

Humans are exposed to the virus through slaughtering, defeathering, butchering and preparing infected birds for consumption. In a few cases, children have contracted the disease through chicken feces while playing in an area frequented by free-ranging poultry.

If an outbreak does occur that impacts poultry farmers in the United States, millions of carcasses may require disposal. Current options for waste management companies include fixed incinerators, mobile air curtain incinerators, waste-to-energy facilities and municipal solid waste landfills.

The advantages and disadvantages of each of these technologies are explained in the paper. For example, mobile technologies limit the transportation of carcasses, but may lack some of the environmental controls that stationary or fixed technologies are required to employ. Municipal solid waste landfills are in greater abundance than the other technologies, but may be limited by permit requirements.

The paper does not take a position on any one technology nor does it discuss experimental technologies or those that currently are in limited commercial use. If an outbreak should occur, waste management companies will need to decide what role they want to play.

A key issue for all waste management companies that choose to get involved in the disposal of carcasses and associated materials is ensuring that employees are properly trained and that personal protective equipment (PPE) is used effectively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines PPE that should be used by workers in contact with avian flu.

Appropriate PPE includes impermeable gloves, outer clothing, safety goggles, boot covers and disposable respirators. The health of workers must be monitored and antiviral drugs given during and after exposure.

Leakproof containers should be used if transportation is required. Vehicles should be decontaminated before leaving the site where the birds were euthanized as well as at the final disposal site. Spill contingency and clean-up plans should be in place in case of a highway incident.

The white paper also includes a list of Web sites to find more information, including those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, CDC and WHO.

A copy of the paper is available at or by contacting NSWMA's Public Affairs Department at (800) 424-2869 or [email protected].

Alice Jacobsohn is director of public affairs and education, for the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA). She can be reached at [email protected].