A worrying trend of untreated medical waste dumped in landfills, is emerging from areas of the South Bay region of San Jose, US. Just days from when a significant amount of hazardous medical waste was traced to three South Bay hospitals, the fourth catch from another hospital- Los Gatos Surgical Center, was obtained.
The medical waste was discovered at the Guadalupe landfill during a routine check of regular trash delivered there, according to Monica Devincenzi, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, which owns the landfill.
Ann Clarkson, senior environmental health specialist for the county says that although the amount of waste was small, estimated at less than 50 pounds in a trash load of several tons, the surgical facility was required to remove the entire load of contaminated trash and send it to a medical waste treatment facility for disposal. Estimates of the weight of the truckload of trash ranged from 4,000 to 9,000 pounds. It included surgical tubing, bloodstained gauze and medication vials.
The county is still investigating how O'Connor Hospital, Los Gatos Community Hospital and Kaiser-Santa Teresa hospital sent untreated medical waste, including bags of human blood, to the landfill seven times during a two-week period. So far, according to hospital and county officials the evidence seems to point to human error. Hospital employees may have simply tossed untreated medical waste into the wrong bins, which were picked up by regular trash haulers and taken to the dump.
Meanwhile, all three hospitals claim they are increasing training and taking other steps to make sure medical waste is disposed of safely.
Yet, Clarkson and others involved continue to wonder about the frequency of the mix-ups in such a short time period, and why the untreated waste has so far been discovered only at one landfill in the county.
Landfills across California have stepped up their monitoring of incoming trash in recent months over environmental concerns and potential health hazards to workers and the public.
Since the earlier incidents this month, the Guadalupe landfill had stopped accepting any waste from hospitals, except for office trash. Devincenzi says the present load got through the landfill gate because the source was not identified on the driver's records as a medical facility - it was delivered on behalf of the surgical center's landlord.
"The source of the latest material was listed on the truck driver's records as "National Office"", Devincenzi was quoted. The surgical center is located at 15195 National Ave. in Los Gatos; there are other businesses, including medical offices, in the same building.
As with the three hospitals, Devincenzi says the landfill will not accept any more deliveries from that location, except for office trash, until the medical facilities develop corrective plans approved by local health officials.
She also says the trash hauler apparently didn't realize medical waste was mixed in with regular trash. However, she added that landfill workers were trained to watch for unacceptable items in loads coming from all sources.
"Everybody's kind of on high alert since the previous discoveries", she added.