IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How to contain Ebola-contaminated waste

The U.S. government has contracted out a private company to dispose of Ebola-contaminated waste. Here's how that will work.

Isolating and treating those infected with Ebola are only two of a multitude of logistical challenges presented by the ongoing epidemic. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas is now challenged with getting rid of the Ebola-contaminated waste that's been generated by the first patient to be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, who is now in critical condition at the hospital.

Anything from sheets used by Duncan at the home where he stayed to needles used to treat him at the hospital could potentially be hazardous. Where will all the waste go? And how will it be disposed of safely?

To that end, the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), in consultation with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), has awarded a special disposal permit to the medical waste management company Stericycle, Inc. The company will be responsible for handling Ebola-contaminated waste for Texas as a whole, not just Presbyterian Hospital. So, should another case of Ebola be diagnosed within the state, Stericycle will be tasked with safely disposing of waste from that incident as well.

The permit [PDF] outlines a very specific set of producers which Stericycle is to follow. The waste must be sealed within several layers of packing material: Multiple inner film bags, each with a minimum thickness of 0.0015 inches, and either a triple-walled corrugated drum or a solid plastic box. The waste itself must be treated with a disinfectant and sealed in its packaging according to carefully set-out procedures.

"We are confident that we will stop this before it spreads in Texas and elsewhere," said CDC head Dr. Thomas Frieden during a Saturday press conference about the Ebola outbreak. Of some 49 people who may or may not have had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, none have yet shown any symptoms of infection, although they are still being monitored just to be safe.

A Thursday email from Rev. George Mason of Dallas' Wilshire Baptist Church to his congregants shed some light on why Thomas Eric Duncan was traveling to the United States. According to Mason, Duncan intended to marry one of the church's members, Louise Troh.

"Louise and other members of her extended family are in isolation now because of their contact with Mr. Duncan," wrote Mason. "You can imagine how frightening this must be for all of them, mixed with the sadness of Mr. Duncan's diagnosis. Please join me in praying for God's mercy and peace to fall upon each of them and for God's healing. They will remain in isolation under direction of the Centers for Disease Control until any threat of infection with Ebola has passed."