In response to numerous requests from their members, both the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), Washington, D.C., and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., have issued guidelines to help waste industry professionals handle potential anthrax contamination and terrorism.
The NSWMA recently issued two guidance documents. One recommends precautions for collecting waste from potentially contaminated sites and for protecting workers from anthrax. The other is a more general guide on protecting employees and securing equipment to prevent terrorist attacks.
“We based [the guidelines] on a variety of things, including the CDC's [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's] information on handling potentially contaminated mail,” says Chaz Miller, director of state programs for the Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), Washington, D.C., the parent association for the NSWMA. Miller also consulted with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Washington, D.C., and talked to companies involved with the contamination to develop the guidelines.
NSWMA's guidelines provide in- formation on how anthrax spreads, what precautions to take when collecting garbage or recyclables from a potentially contaminated facility, what to do if a suspicious powder appears to be anthrax, who to call in case of contamination or potential contamination, and how to handle personal hygiene after an incident.
The guidelines suggest that solid waste managers control access to all solid waste management facilities, check inventories daily, take normal precautions to ensure that trucks are not stolen, report missing vehicles immediately to police, and be alert to suspicious circumstances and unusual conditions in the facility and on the route.
Meantime, SWANA also has issued guidelines to its members, suggesting that they work with local, state and federal authorities to spread the message that suspicious letters and packages should not be placed in trash bins or other solid waste collection containers, but should be separated and contained, according to CDC and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) guidelines.
SWANA breaks down the guidelines into two sections — a list of what to do at a potentially contaminated site, and a list of precautions to avoid anthrax exposure. For those with potential anthrax contamination, SWANA suggests that managers determine whether any buildings in the service area have been contaminated with anthrax and to suspend collection of potentially contaminated recyclables and wastes from those buildings.
SWANA also suggests that managers provide masks and surgical gloves to employees working in high-dust areas, implement a respirator protection program, provide training on the proper use of respiratory equipment and distribute information about the symptoms of anthrax exposure.
To safeguard facilities against anthrax contamination, SWANA suggests managers encourage employees to use personal protective equipment to prevent biohazard exposure, wash their hands regularly and notify employers if they come across a suspicious material. Solid waste managers should provide training on preventive measures and evaluate dust-reduction opportunities, SWANA says.
According to one SWANA member, the guidelines were sent at the perfect time. Workers at a materials recovery facility (MRF) in Portage County, Ohio, discovered an envelope made from brown kraft paper on the recycling sort line on Nov. 8, one day after Patrick J. Holland, SWANA board member and executive director of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, sent the guidelines.
When the envelope was picked up, a suspicious white powder spilled from the side where the glue had come undone. According to Charles Ramer, coordinator for the Portage County Solid Waste District, the envelope had Arabic printing on the front, and the return and mailing addresses were scratched out.
After calling the local fire, police and county health departments, Ramer showed them the guidelines. “There was a bit of confusion because a lot of officials had different opinions on how to proceed,” Ramer says. “There was no clear line of authority … so we lost valuable time in our response.”
Portage County MRF facility workers were sent to a doctor to receive anthrax medication. Samples also were sent to the Ohio Department of Health lab for testing, which took six days and shut down the MRF. Much to the facility's relief, the health lab discovered that the substance was not anthrax.
Although the facility tested negative, Ramer still wants to know what the substance was and why someone would send it. “Our hope [was] that at least we could get the sample back to do independent testing or at the very least, translate what [the message in the envelope] was,” Ramer laments.
But Ramer feels that it was a good experience to at least establish guidelines and determine what to do in case of a suspicious substance. “Our goal now will be to establish some clear authority to coordinate our efforts with the police, fire and health departments,” he adds.