Exhuming landfilled clinical wastes

The recovery of identifiable clinical waste items including catheters and cannulae, medical device wrappers and fluid-filled tubing, syringes and needles when exhuming wastes from landfill sites is surprisingly common.

From personal experience of several such investigations, wastes will appear in remarkably fresh condition and only by careful examination of surrounding materials and rigorous review of landfill records can the age of these finds be estimated.  That is a key step in assessing safety, since there is much circumstantial and experimental data about the survival of a vast range of potential bacterial and viral pathogens in soil. From this, and the circumstances of potential exposure and assessment of safety can be concluded, though inevitably concerns will be high despite scientific support.

In Colorado, drilling for oil at a site in Windsor is complicated by an overlying landfill site. Drilling has brought to the surface several items of clinical waste that is causing concern to nearby residents.

Though opening of old landfill sites for any purpose is uncommon, resource recovery through landfill mining may become sufficiently common that such finds may become more frequent, ever more so now that Local Authorities have taken the lead on the downgrading of clinical wastes from domestic premises to permit this to be co-mingled with domestic wastes as a cost-saving manoeuvre.



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