Turn on any news channel at the moment and you’re faced with wall-to-wall coverage about the toxic super-virus Ebola. It’s everywhere at the moment and, as cases begin to pile up across the world, so does the need for a robust plan to tackle the huge amount of medical waste product created in its wake.
The virus, which originated in Africa, is usually transmitted through physical contact, however the risks are low to people in developed, first-world countries. But that doesn’t remove the need for hospitals and medical centres to act cautiously and conservatively with how they safely and correctly dispose of any waste product that is created.
A recent article described how every patient that is treated for Ebola in the United States is responsible for around eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste per day. Add that up and you’re looking at near enough 440 gallons of medical waste product per patient, per day. To put it in perspective; it would take 4,227 pints of beer to fill that amount of barrels.
This is placing a huge strain on hospitals across the world. Some American states have even admitted they don’t know how to deal with the sheer amount of medical waste that requires safe destruction.
What sort of products are we talking about? Imagine for every patient, there are protective gloves and gowns, medical instruments, bed sheets and even mattresses. Once any of these items have been exposed to the pathogen, they simply must be incinerated to remove all risk of further infection.
The big problem faced by a lot of states is that incineration was stopped for economic and tax reasons; California’s last medical waste incinerator closed in 2001 and no new facilities were built between 1996 and 2007. For those without facility to carry out medical incineration, steam sterilisation is being put forward as a solution, however facilities are being offered to package and transport waste at other states (such as Texas, Utah and Oklahoma) where medical incineration is still an active process.