Friday, January 22, 1999

Medical waste
crisis resolved

As a temporary measure,
pathological material will be
burned on the Big Isle

By Helen Altonn


Oahu hospitals have found a temporary solution on the Big Island to their medical waste disposal crisis.

Pathological material will be shipped to the Waste Abatement Resource Systems incinerator at Shipman Industrial Park in Keaau.

The decision, reached late last night in a series of conference calls, was announced today by the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents hospitals and nursing facilities.

Richard E. Meiers, association president and chief executive officer, said a barge is expected to leave Sunday with the first shipment.

Unitek Solvent Services, Inc., specialized waste handling firm, has been hired to transport the pathological material -- largely made up of placentas from births and some limbs and organs.

All precautions have been taken to ensure safety, Meiers said. "Appropriate containers have been secured and will be shipped in accordance with all state and federal regulations."

Meiers said he also hoped for a decision today at an association board meeting about resuming shipments of chemotherapy waste to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill in Makakilo.

In December, the hospitals began sending such chemotherapy-related materials as IV bags, syringes, tubing, vials, disposable gowns and gloves to a landfill section designated for "special waste."

Needles are considered part of biohazard waste that's disposed of in the landfill under Department of Health regulations, the association said.

After about 4,000 pounds of special waste was buried, the association stopped using the landfill to address community concerns.

Hospital and healthcare officials met twice with the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board to answer questions. Residents seemed satisfied that all laws are being followed, Meiers said.

He said the waste will be sterilized and will be "cleaner than the garbage out of everybody's kitchen."

The accumulation of pathological waste has posed a big problem for hospitals.

Gov. Ben Cayetano allowed one-time emergency burning of the material last June in the Halawa incinerator. Since then, the hospitals have had to rent additional freezers for storage.

Meiers said the situation has reached "crisis levels" with more than 15,000 pounds of material stored that must be disposed of immediately.

He said the Keaau incinerator has safely burned pathological material from two Big Island hospitals for three years.

However, use of that incinerator isn't a permanent solution to the medical waste disposal problem, he said.

Castle Medical Center had burned chemotherapy and pathological waste from the other hospitals at its Kailua incinerator until Feb. 1 when it halted the practice because of neighborhood concerns.

The hospital association's Medical Waste Task Force, headed by Sue Slavish, has been exploring other options the past year.

Lengthy negotiations were held with Matson Navigation Co. and an Oakland, Calif., incinerator regarding the possibility of shipping waste there.

Hospitals felt the costs would drive up consumer health-care costs.

They also feel Hawaii's medical waste should be disposed of here, Meiers said.

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