Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A TERRIBLE THING TO MIND: The so-called “landfill crisis” that has persisted for literally decades on Kaua`i has nothing on Honolulu’s where the waste problem has literally overflowed at their landfill at Waimanalo Gulch, specifically the medical waste that flowed freely into the ocean during the storms last week.

The questions over whether, as the city and county claims, that medical waste has been made harmless was first broached by Civil Beat’s Michael Levine and Adrienne LaFrance last week when they first questioned the safety of the syringes with attached needles and intact vials of blood and urine saying:

Health officials said the medical waste that ended up in the ocean didn't pose any serious health threat. Yet one of the strange aspects of this story is that no single agency can claim responsibility for oversight of medical waste. In fact, three local entities each point to the other as responsible.

But after the Honolulu City Council held hearings yesterday, while the Honolulu Advertiser ran articles more or less dismissive of the testimony of medical professionals maintaining that, as one headline blared, “Proper procedure followed in disposing of medical waste,” today in LaFrance’s follow-up she wrote that:

Department of Health officials said they received documents that prove the medical waste was non-infectious, but Civil Beat's requests — to the Health Department, city officials and the landfill operator — to view those documents have not been returned. Since last week, Waste Management operator Joe Whelan has refused repeated requests for comment...

"No one can say with 100 percent certainty that the medical waste that went into the ocean has all been sanitized," (City Council member Tulsi Gabbard) Tamayo said. "I still don't have a clear sense of where the oversight is. We are putting many different types of medical waste and special waste into the landfill and there doesn't seem to be a clear line of oversight as far as how often to inspect the facilities, who is responsible for it, or a clear chain of responsibility."

But, as we wrote to Levine when the first article appeared, a simple examination of the process that officials claim to use to “sterilize” the materials and a basic understanding of simple microbiology shows that the waste that spilled onto the beach and into the ocean would necessarily have remained as contaminated and infections as it was when taken from the patient.

It all comes down to the use of what’s called an autoclave to sterilize closed vials of blood and urine, something that most medical professionals know doesn’t cut it.

While officials have claimed that the use of an autoclave to sterilize the waste made it sterile, autoclaves work not just by steam heat but, by using pressure- and no amount of pressure on a closed, sealed vial- as some photos have shown was collected- will guarantee sterilization.

According to Wikipedia an autoclave works by “subjecting (materials) to high pressure saturated steam at 121 °C or more, typically for 15–20 minutes depending on the size of the load and the contents.”

But that’s for items directly exposed to the steam heat under pressure. And a closed glass vial- one, as a matter of fact, designed to be impervious to outside elements so as to make sure the contents are not contaminated before testing- will maintain the contents with any pathogens intact.

According to the Advertiser article linked above:

(t)he state Department of Health’s “administrative rules require that before disposal, infectious wastes may be incinerated, sterilized or chemically disinfected on site 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.

So far no one has really challenged the specifics of whether the waste was properly sterilized (using chemical or incineration are the other two methods of sterilizing waste) and officials seem to think if they stonewall enough it will go away.

Because while this problem is on a “big city “scale, the actions of officials in Honolulu seem to be based on the way “3D” Kaua`i usually addresses problems like this- delay, deflect and deny- and soon people will move on to your next bit of incompetence.

1 comment:

Larry said...

Nothing in the ocean is sterile. If you get scratched by a needle while swimming, you've just been exposed to whatever staph and other evil beasties are in the water.

And if it scratches your eye, for example?

Needles in the ocean are just bad news even if they've "sterilized" them.

And why is Honolulu allowing storm runoff from a dump to run into the ocean anyway?

There is more to the story, I expect it will come out tomorrow.