The National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA) is monitoring developments and coordinating Ebola-waste handling, transportation and treatment issues with our Healthcare Waste Institute members and government agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Department of Transportation (DOT), National Institute of Health (NIH), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). NW&RA staff members also recently met with Congressional leaders to answer their questions about the waste industry’s response to the crisis.
In addition, we are working with the broader membership to address post-treatment and disposal concerns. We want to ensure that industry input is heard as important protocols are developed and implemented to manage the current situation and prepare for any possible further cases.
As we continue to work to ensure that members and others have the necessary information for their decision-making around handling this waste, we are collecting and planning to release accurate and credible information regarding safe handling protocols for Ebola waste and the safety of the waste post-treatment. Our goals are to keep the public and our employees safe, maintain public and employee confidence in the U.S. waste management infrastructure, and protect the ability of our members to conduct their business.
We will address other concerns as they arise. To this end, we are communicating frequently with our members about the most up-to-date information on issues related to Ebola containment, treatment and disposal activity. Here are answers to the questions we have received about the handling, transportation, treatment and disposal of Ebola waste:
Do appropriate protocols exist to manage Ebola waste? Ebola waste is being managed in strict adherence to the safety protocols established by U.S. government agencies for the handling, transportation and management of Ebola-contaminated waste. These regulations have been established by DOT, CDC and OSHA with regard to their specific areas of expertise.
Is it safe to manage Ebola waste? Our association and its members recognize that some people have concerns about the management of waste associated with Ebola patient treatment. Healthcare waste companies have a long history of managing other regulated medical waste. By following established Ebola-specific government protocols for safe handling, transportation and treatment, our members will similarly protect people from the dangers of Ebola waste.
Are there public risks associated with the transportation of Ebola waste? The protocols established by the U.S. Department of Transportation for the handling and transportation of Ebola waste are unprecedented. Our industry is committed to following these protocols for Ebola waste as we do the existing protocols for other medical waste. By following these protocols, we are confident that our members can safely handle and transport Ebola waste without putting industry employees or the public at risk.
How do you treat Ebola waste? Ebola-associated waste is inactivated using incineration, autoclaving (heating) or other approved treatment technologies. Treatment providers test their autoclaves to ensure complete destruction of the virus. Once such a process has been completed, the waste is not infectious and no longer poses a health risk.
What do you do with Ebola waste after treatment? After treatment, the waste is Ebola-free and therefore no longer considered to be regulated medical waste or hazardous material, according to federal law. This nonhazardous waste, following eradication of the virus, is completely viable for safe transit and disposal—following the same strict rules and regulations as other solid waste—in landfills or waste management facilities designated to receive waste. According to OSHA and EPA, disposing of properly treated medical waste at landfills poses no danger from Ebola to waste management professionals, transportation employees or the public.
Where can I get more information? NW&RA has a resources page on our website (wasterecycling.org/ebola), where we’re sharing other information with our members. If you’re not a member of NW&RA but you are interested in this subject, you should talk to us about joining.
Sharon H. Kneiss is the president and CEO of the National Waste & Recycling Association. She can be reached at [email protected].