Thursday, January 27, 2011


STICKIN’ IT TO YA: The cover-up of the mishandling of medical waste in Honolulu that was exposed by the flood that released all sorts of solid waste into the ocean from the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill is only getting worse, according to Adrienne LaFrance’s latest article in Civil Beat today.

Though officials continue to claim that all procedures were properly followed for making the waste harmless LaFrance has been getting the runaround from them when she asks them to show that it’s true.

Today she writes:

"Just trying to ascertain whatever facts we can collate together," (Director of the Health Department's, Safe Drinking Water Branch Steve) Yamada said. "There's a pretty firm idea what kinds of violations did occur, but obviously to make a case, you have to have all the information. The landfill was required to perform (water quality) tests, and a lot of those test results have yet to be submitted."

Officials still can't say exactly what was in the trash-filled stormwater that flooded from the landfill into the Pacific Ocean.

"At this point, that's the main crux of the tests we're waiting for," Yamada said.

Residents know well that some of the garbage was medical waste because they helped remove it from their neighborhood beaches and saw it on TV news. Officials were quick to explain that the waste was non-infectious because only treated medical waste is allowed in the landfill. Department of Health officials said they had documents from the landfill proving the waste had been sanitized.

But although LaFrance details the lack of documents and information from the state, the landfill operator Waste Management or the companies that sanitize the waste, it’s obvious from visual inspection that at least two violations of federal standards for handling of medical waste occurred.

As we wrote Tuesday pictures of the collected waste include intact vials of blood and urine which, according to previous statements had only been autoclaved when proper procedure involved either chemical sterilization or incineration.

But even worse is what nurses addressing a Honolulu City Council meeting described- something that indicates that the problem with medical waste in Honolulu may go well beyond just the post generation handling of infectious materials.

Many of the pictures inexplicably show syringes with the needles still attached to them. As any medical professional- as a matter of fact as anyone who works in a medical facility, including housekeeping and even trash collection personnel- knows, needles are required to be cut off syringes immediately after use.

Wherever needles are used special boxes are required to be provided with cutting devices that remove the needles from syringes or intravenous tubing and deposit them in a closed box.

What exactly does this say for the medical procedures followed in some O`ahu medical facilities that this most basic handling of needles isn’t followed?

The big question for officials is whether they are independently investigating the trail of waste back to, not just the waste companies but to the facilities that generated it themselves.

The release of waste into the ocean is bad enough. The release of apparently mishandled medical waste is worse.

The incident should lead minimally to a review of the system of recordkeeping which LaFrance's piece indicates is severely lacking.

Though the Department of Health claims it’s administrative rules assure medical waste is handled “in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendations, Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and the nonprofit Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute's waste management guidelines” that quite obviously is not the case, not just “post production” but at the very source.

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