Spilled medical waste is sterilized, a firm says
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 17, 2011
While medical waste continued to wash up on shore yesterday, the city's landfill operator took precautions to prevent a further discharge of debris from storm runoff.
Tim Steinberger, director of the city Department of Environmental Services, said Waste Management, the operator of Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, had installed a barrier to remove debris in storm runoff water before it reaches a drainage basin.
On Thursday the basin had medical waste floating on top when it overflowed, sending contaminated runoff into the ocean.
Waste Management also collected debris from around the storm drainage basin in preparation for heavy rain expected last night, he said.
For most of the day, officials with the state Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the city Department of Environmental Services met with Waste Management to discuss the cleanup of medical waste.
In a statement the Health Department said all release of muddy water from the landfill had been stopped by 10 a.m. yesterday and that the level of water in the basin had been lowered by pumping.
Any new storm water that entered the basin last night should have been contained on the landfill property, the statement said.
Waste Management also provided documents showing that all medical waste accepted at the landfill had been sterilized, according to law, the department said.
"Any medical waste that was washed into the ocean from the landfill should not be considered infectious," the department said. "While the waste does not pose an immediate threat to public health, the possibility of puncture wounds from sharp items such as needles is cause for careful handling."
Anyone who finds medical waste is urged to report the finding to Waste Management, which has a beach cleanup crew to monitor the area where the storm drain meets the ocean, at 668-2985.
The department's first lab results from water sampling taken along the coastline on Thursday after the landfill runoff showed high bacteria levels, consistent with polluted runoff from storm events typically found in the ocean after heavy rain in Hawaii.
Steinberger said most of the medical waste had come from Tripler Army Medical Center.
The EPA asked that any new waste collected be bagged and brought back so the waste can be assessed, he said.
"The Department of Health, EPA and the city is satisfied with what Waste Management is now doing," he said.
He said city employees also collected water samples yesterday and did not find any floating medical waste in a pass from Kahe Point to Ewa Beach.
Meanwhile, federal officials closed White Plains Beach and Nimitz Beach yesterday because medical waste was still washing up on shore, a Navy spokeswoman said.
Waste Management's beach cleanup crew recovered more medical waste near Kahe Point, a company spokesman said. About three bags of medical waste, gathered by someone the day before, were recovered from Ko Olina.
The company plans to continue searching along the shoreline today.
Waste Management Hawaii said it is permitted to discharge storm water into the ocean under permit guidelines.
Honolulu Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo said she was disturbed to see syringes still being washed ashore and no one to gather them up.
"This situation is not being treated as the emergency that it is because this is jeopardizing people's safety," she said.
She plans to hold a committee hearing to find out who needs to be held accountable, why the overflow happened and how to prevent it from happening again.