An Unusual Ebola Infrastructure Problem: Waste

Patients for this debilitating virus create 440 gallons of medical waste daily, such as instruments, gowns, gloves, body fluids, linens, sheets and more. That is a considerable amount of medical waste in any circumstance, but it is particularly daunting in this situation because it ought to be disposed extremely carefully, to avoid the chance of spreading disease. What should you do with a problem such as Ebola waste? Because you don’t need to toss it in the garbage.

Somewhat astonishingly, says Bausch, the United States actually faces bigger problems in regards to safely disposing of Ebola waste, which is simply burned in large pits in Africa:”In the United States, naturally, we’re somewhat beholden to greater tech solutions, which in some ways are a tiny bit more problematic concerning treating all that waste, and we need autoclaves or incinerators that could handle that sort of thing. It’s not the actual inactivation that is particularly difficult; it is only the process of finding the waste from, of course, the frontline of care and interaction with the patients safely to the place where it could be incinerated or autoclaved.”

The difficulty in the United States is ironically compounded by the increased accessibility to medical care, and the high quality of healthcare services, available. In the United States, patients have been treated with medical teams with access to a massive volume of supplies they use for protection, such as masks, gowns, booties, and gloves, together with sanitizers and other tools. Moreover, patients receive extensive medical interventions which create waste such as needles, tubing, medical tape, empty IV bags, and more. The very care which has helped the majority of the handful of Ebola patients in the United States conquer the disorder has contributed to the huge amount of waste created, highlighting a critical hole in U.S. medical infrastructure — while African American hospitals may have lacked the supplies and personnel required to provide aid to Ebola patients, they are at least prepared to handle the waste.

The CDC only issued guidelines to assist clinicians and administrators decide upon how to handle Ebola waste, but The New York Times notes that many facilities do not have the autoclave, and incinerator, ability to take care of medical waste with this scale. Some countries prohibit the burning of medical waste altogether, or have barred incineration of Ebola waste, resulting in the transport of waste across state boundaries to facilities which could handle it, which introduces its own risks; with each mile added to transportation, there is a greater risk of spreading disease to previously unexposed communities.

Astonishingly, defenders of burning the garbage come from surprising corners. Environmentals such as Allen Hershkowitz, National Resources Defense Council senior scientist, point out :”There is no pollutant that is going to come out of a waste incinerator that is more dangerous than the Ebola virus. When you are dealing with pathogenic and biological hazards, occasionally the safest thing to do is combustion.” Fears about Ebola, rather than genuine ecological or public health issues, are forcing the decision to push against incineration of ebola waste in several regions, but eventually, the United States is going to need to face facts: The mounting waste which accumulates in facilities where Ebola patients receive treatments needs to be disposed of safely, as well as instantly.

The argument in defense of incineration can be bolstered by the fact that medical waste companies specialize in high-efficiency incineration with equipment designed to minimize and trap byproducts of combustion, reducing overall pollution considerably. Fears about Ebola, rather than genuine environmental or public health concerns, are driving the decision to push against incineration of ebola waste in many regions, but eventually, the United States is going to have to face facts: The mounting waste that accumulates in facilities where Ebola patients receive treatments needs to be disposed of safely, and promptly.