Call For UK hospital waste rethink in wake of Ebola outbreak

PyroPure Ltd is calling for the UK to treat the development of on site medical waste disposal technology as a priority following the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa, which has already claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and is now claimed to be the worst outbreak of the disease since 1976. 

Peter Selkirk, executive chairman at PyroPure claims that the UK is “woefully underprepared when it comes to hazardous waste disposal in high-risk environments” and “too reliant on out-dated procedures that leave those responsible for waste collection vulnerable and open to infection”.

Whilst Ebola represents a small risk to the UK, PyroPure is urging the healthcare sector and industries responsible for managing high-risk waste to re-evaluate the way in which they dispose of it in order to significantly boost infection control and reduce the chances of contamination.

Peter comments: “Whilst a widespread UK outbreak of Ebola remains unlikely, the devastation it has caused in West Africa should provide a wake up call to the UK. It is too risky to continue the outdated practices of storage of infected hospital waste and its transportation over the highways to incinerators. There are a number of ‘touch points’ through the cradle to grave waste disposal chain where manual handling poses a risk.”

A report by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence confirms that thousands of people continue to die unnecessarily from hospital-acquired infections and that healthcare associated infections are estimated to cost the NHS approximately £1bn a year.

“The UK must adopt a smarter approach to the way in which it manages clinical waste; one that not only reduces risks and incidents of infection but also processes that doesn’t leave anything to chance”, concludes Peter.

“Pyropure is seeking to establish new solutions to age old problems – however we need to expedite this process in order to ensure that the UK is as well-equipped as it can be to fight infections that could pose a serious risk to the population.”

PyroPure recently received funding from the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, to develop its PyroPure technology. The system uses pyrolysis to facilitate the on-site destruction of waste

In all probability, there is a case for mobile treatment units such as the Pyropure device, to be delivered rapidly to regions experiencing outbreaks of infection that create a massive and uncontrolled, perhaps global, public health danger, or for use in regions in need of an emergency treatment resource such as Gaza and, periodically, many African countries. As always, a reliable power supply will be the obvious problem, while the logisticians will consider the difficulties of equipment delivery as much as the supply of generators and fuel.

Beyond that, the question is what happens afterwards, when the outbreak is resolved. Take the equipment back? It will need rigorous disinfection inside and out, and for many equipment items that may be problematic or damaging. In reality, the facility may be scrapped and itself become waste, unless it can be donated for on-going use locally. But where is the support and expertise that will keep it going?

It all comes down to cost, and to the biology of the causative organism? Will no-cost landfill disposal be adequate, or a simple home-made incinerator, or even the mix of the two that unpopular burn pit which has caused so much trouble to the US Army.

Cheap and cheerful, or costly but effective?  There is no reason not to consider the best available technology, but it has to be a realistic option and immediately available. In so many ways, it comes down to a mater of cost and that is a matter about what the richer nations will support for use in those with few if any material resources.

But as a precaution against the uncontrolled global spread of some high risk pathogen such as Ebola, easier than one might imagine in these days of accessible global air travel, each country will maintain one of more high security isolation hospitals – the UK has one at Kings – where a compact but effective and wholly reliable waste disposal unit similar to the Pyropure would be hugely advantageous.

That holds true also for veterinary establishments, at ports and airports, to protect against imported pathogens of the national herd and poultry locks. So too for those research and diagnostic laboratories that handle these pathogens, where the escape of pathogens with inadequately or untreated solid wastes or effluents – as in the last foot and mouth outbreak caused by, some had assumed, the escape of foot and mouth virus from the veterinary lab at Pirbright.


see Open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan

and Acknowledging adverse health effects of military burn pits

and US abandons toxic burn pits as it withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan


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