Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Safeguards in Burning Medical Waste

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Safeguards in Burning Medical Waste

Article excerpt

Every time a patient comes to a hospital for help, biomedical waste is created. Hospitals cannot treat or cure people without generating biomedical waste.

In fact, the various regulatory agencies that protect the environment and the health of hospital workers and residents are continuing to classify more and more hospital waste as biomedical waste. As a result, despite all our efforts to recycle and to increase reliance on "reusables," hospitals in this area collectively generate millions of pounds of waste that is classified as biomedical each year. The ever-rising costs for disposing of that waste contribute significantly to increases in health-care costs.

St. Louis-area hospitals decided more than two years ago to seek a more cost-effective way to dispose of biomedical waste that would meet all the regulations, protect the health of patients, workers and residents and safeguard the environment.

The result of two years of study, technology review and site evaluation is the current proposal to operate a regional biomedical waste incinerator on a vacant lot near the Bi-State MetroLink tracks. The area is zoned industrial and is located north of Clayton Avenue, between Sarah and Vandeventer in the city. The site is centrally located to metropolitan area hospitals. More important, it has easy access for vehicles from highways without going through residential areas. And it is near potential steam purchasers, which would allow the incinerator to operate as a complete energy cycle by converting waste to steam to be used as an energy source.

Two of the most common alternatives, autoclaving - what some call steam sterilization - and microwaving, were rejected primarily because they cannot guarantee sterilization of this volume of waste, nor can they handle the entire waste stream. Those technologies can handle only very small amounts of what is called "pathological" waste, the tissues and tumors that have been removed from the human body.

Other suggested technologies were evaluated, but were not feasible for a project that will be handling about 6 million pounds of waste a year. The consultants stated: "Incineration is a safe, proven technology, the only technology that can handle the entire biomedical waste stream while generating sterilization in the volume."

Included in the review were chemical disinfection, microwaving and the newest high-heat process, pyrolysis or the "plasma torch." Each of these was studied in depth and rejected for a variety of reasons, related to additional environmental hazards, unsuitability for the amount of waste in this project, inability to guarantee sterilization and no clear history of success.

One of the most important aspects of this project is that it will give us more control over what happens to biomedical waste and actually help improve the environment. …

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