The Davis County garbage-burning plant could be going into the medical waste incineration business.
Jim Young, Davis County Solid Waste Management and Energy Recovery Special Service District manager, said plant officials are looking at burning used bandages, syringes, blood vials and other waste generated by hospitals and clinics.As described in a recent Deseret News series, disposal of infectious medical waste is an increasing problem in Utah. Harry Gibbons, director of the Salt Lake City-County Department, said that, because of AIDS, material associated with blood or skin should be considered hazardous. And burning is probably the best method of disposal.
"We are told we burn at temperatures consistently high enough to dispose of medical and pathological wastes. We are just anxious to deal with the normal waste stream we have now and be operating properly and then we will look at the possibilities of expanding in that direction," Young said.
Hospitals and garbage haulers have expressed interest in the plan to destroy medical waste in the plant's two mass-burn furnaces, said Young. Currently Utah's medical waste is burned at some small hospital incinerators, treated in steam autoclaves, shipped to out-of-state incinerators or simply dumped in the garbage. No law requires special treatment.
"We have a lot of people that would like to dispose of that kind of product here because it is tough one to get rid of," Young said.
The move to include medical waste in its operations will likely have to wait until the burn plant gets a new pollution permit and is officially transferred from the control of the contractor to the special service district.
A LDS Hospital official said the hospital's parent company, Intermountain Health Care, has been considering building regional infectious waste incinerators throughout Utah but would welcome cost-effective disposal at the burn plant. Presently LDS Hospital's medical waste incinerator is hard pressed to keep up with the loads the hospital generates, said Bill Lukens, hospital safety officer.
"This is something we would be amenable to if we can reach a mutually agreeable price," Lukens said.
The hospital is also interested in the possibility of burning medical waste at a hazardous waste incinerator proposed in Tooele County.
Jeanne Babin, Salt Lake district manager of BFI Waste Systems, said that her firm is interested in taking medical waste to the burn plant if plant officials can promise economical tipping fees and temperatures hot enough to properly destroy the wastes.
She is concerned about how the plant will get the infectious waste from the loading dock to the 3-foot-high furnace mouth. Regular garbage is lifted to the furnace "hopper" by a bucket on a crane. However, such a system could allow viruses in infectious waste to become airborne.
BFI is the only commercial carrier in Utah that specially handles medical waste. The waste is gathered in special red bags, frozen and transported to an incinerator in Phoenix. From the 42 clients along the Wasatch Front BFI gathers between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds of medical waste each month. Babin estimates BFI collects only about 15 percent of the 100,000 pounds of medical waste generated in the state each month.