States Turned Away Ebola Waste During U.S. Incidents

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By Rachel Leven

Jan. 21 — Certain states refused to accept Ebola-contaminated waste at their incinerators during the fall of 2014 when a number of cases in the U.S. was reported, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

It was not clear, however, where the waste was ultimately incinerated, stored or otherwise disposed. The Environmental Protection Agency didn't immediately respond to messages requesting details and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration declined to comment.

“What do you do with it,” a former PHMSA official who requested anonymity told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 21, regarding the dilemma this type of action could pose for a federal agency. “If you can't move the waste, it can't remain at the hospitals.”

There were four confirmed cases of Ebola in the U.S. in September and October of 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only one person—the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. following his return from Liberia to Dallas, Texas—died, the centers said.

Indiana Declined Waste

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management was among the states that declined the waste, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show. The names of other states that declined to accept the waste could not be determined.

For Indiana, the department told medical waste facility officials in the state Oct. 10, 2014, that federal agencies were coming up with guidance for the proper packaging, transportation, management, treatment and disposal of Ebola-contaminated wastes. Until that guidance was prepared, the facilities were ordered not to accept the Ebola waste.

Indiana's decision was part of a trend of Ebola-contaminated waste refusals. Selin Hoboy, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for the hazmat transporter Stericycle Inc., said in an Oct. 10, 2014, e-mail to Donald Burger, who is now chief of the PHMSA official's general approvals and permits division for hazmat, that “It's starting to spread!! Now Indiana won't let them treat [Ebola-contaminated waste] in Indiana!!!”

Burger fowarded that e-mail to a number of PHMSA employees with the note: “FYI—Treatment options are closing. Indiana is now prohibiting Ebola contaminated waste at their incinerators as well.”

PHMSA declined to comment for this article. Stericycle, the EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management didn't immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA's messages requesting comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com