Spillage of clinical wastes from vehicles

Several bags of clinical (medical) waste have been found along US 30 in Warsaw, Indiana. The bags were reported to contain medical waste and other items that came from Kosciusko Community Hospital.

Items identified included a syringe package and red bio-hazard bag, gauze and rubber gloves, and a used IV drip. Though few items have been reported, these were spread over a wide area of the highway and it is suggested that one or more boxed bags were dropped and then hit by other vehicles so that the wastes which they contained were scattered over a large area.

This occurrence of course breaches several Codes, including Indiana Code 16-14-16 which defines infectious waste is defined as “waste that epidemiological evidence indicates is capable of transmitting a dangerous communicable disease”. The Code also defines proper handling regulations for such waste, that does not include dropping it from a vehicle onto the highway.

Despite much regulation and many pages of perfectly clear and unambiguous guidance, clinical waste transport in the UK remains less than ideal. Several companies are filling 20- and 30- tonne vehicles and box trailers with loose waste sacks jumbled with sharps bins in a manner that does not meet the required transport standard. There are still vehicles are on the road which carry clinical wastes which do not comply with ADR and other requirements to provide a leak-proof and impervious body lining. Close inspection of these shows evidence of prior leakage and heavy contamination of wooden interiors.

Load compartments panelled with wooden or metal slats intended to allow load items to be secured risk snagging or ripping of individual sacks and spillage of their contents and in some of these vehicles contamination can be found on the side walls also.

Sadly, the industry lets itself down still further by using hire vehicles for waste collections when their own vehicles are off the road. Inevitably, these hire vehicles are not sanitised before return, and may be unwittingly used for the transport of sensitive items or foodstuffs by the next user!

Local Authorities often dedicate a single truck to the collection of sanitary/offensive and clinical wastes from domestic and school premises, and these too are often below the prescribed standard. Most are simple vans without adequate construction, separation and lining of the load compartment, or larger tail-lift general purpose box trucks. Still others can be seen to use open trucks with a cage into which waste sacks are thrown, trucks that are later used for general refuse collections or, well, who knows what they might be used for?

EA, HSE and transport regulators would use their time wisely to address these issues, to enforce improvement in hazardous waste carriage standards. Regrettably, down-regulation of sanitary/offensive wastes supports these improper transport standards and it might be better to focus on pollution risks rather than solely on the risk of infection, though many will be aware of my views concerning that risk of infection that does not go away simply because someone has chosen to change the administrative classification of wastes.

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