By JIM MULLOWNEY The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management recently announced its intent to issue a license to MedRecycler to treat medical waste. My daughter is a life-long resident of Rhode Island and I have lived here for over 30 years.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management recently announced its intent to issue a license to MedRecycler to treat medical waste. My daughter is a life-long resident of Rhode Island and I have lived here for over 30 years. I am a chemist in the hazardous waste industry and medical waste expert, and I strongly oppose this action.
Make no mistake, Med Recycler’s proposed facility is an incinerator, no matter that it is called a “leading-edge processing facility”. The proposed facility has the capacity to destroy any living thing, which is fine for treating biological hazards, but totally ineffective at destroying chemicals.
Many drugs used to treat cancer have their roots in chemical weapons (mustard gas to name one) and are DNA-altering. These extremely dangerous chemicals can effectively treat cancer, but in the first days following treatment, chemo patients excrete up to 90% of chemo drugs in their original active form. If this cytotoxic human “medical waste” is incinerated, chemo chemicals will become airborne chemical weapons that not only threaten us, but future generations. These chemicals are mutagenic (cause birth defects), teratogenic (skips a generation before causing a birth defect) and carcinogenic (cause cancer).
The MedRecycler system does not eliminate or destroy cytotoxic drugs. Any level of exposure to these dangerous chemicals can cause cancer and birth defects now and in the future.Pyrolysis has been around since the 1870’s with its beginnings in coal gasification. We all know what a disaster that process left for future generations. The MedRecycler incinerator will spew chemical weapons into the air we breathe, the air our children and families breathe, and the air future generations will breathe. Cytotoxic chemicals will wind up not only in our air, but in the Bay, in our soil, in our drinking water and ultimately in us. The consequences are dire, not just for the people who live near the site but for all Rhode Islanders.
Air permits in RI focus on pathogens and other living biological hazards. Looking at the proposed MedRecycler facility solely on this basis, of course it is safe. What is not being considered are the chemo chemicals classified by the RI Department of Environmental Management as “Extremely Hazardous Wastes.” A significant amount of this “medical waste” will contain the most dangerous chemicals ever invented.
Approval of this incineration process would trade one ignored problem for another. Currently, chemo-contaminated human waste is being flushed directly into toilets where it ultimately enters Greenwich Bay, the shores of Barrington, and all of Rhode Island. If this MedRecycler facility is approved, cytotoxic waste, human or not, from every hospital in within 500 miles will undoubtedly be forwarded to this MedRecycler facility in a “red bag” where it will be incinerated instead of being flushed.
As a result of my testimony to the EPA in 2009, the EPA shut down almost every medical waste incinerator in the U.S. EPA regulations do not allow incineration of drugs in any form and do not discriminate as to whether the pharmaceutical is a trace residue, a bottle of pills, a vial of chemo drugs, or is contained in bodily fluids from cytotoxic drugs.
USP800 (a result of The Drug Quality and Security Act (Public Law 113-54) mandates everyone who handles chemotherapy drugs, from pharmacists to nurses to techs and other staff, must be protected. All used gloves, boxes, empty vials, and every cytotoxic-drug-contaminated item must be disposed of as a “trace chemotherapy waste.” USP800 includes protection from the cytotoxic drugs contained in urine, feces, vomit and sweat of patients, but no one is enforcing that part of the regulation or adequately educating cancer patients about the risks for the families.
OSHA allows zero human exposure to chemotherapy drugs. Ten years ago, every hospital in the country was notified of the dire consequences of exposure to these chemicals in a letter from OSHA, NIOSH and the Joint Commission on Healthcare.
Exposure to secondhand chemotherapy is a global health crisis. The E.U. recognizes the extreme dangers of this chemical waste and is leading the charge in collecting and segregating chemotherapy patient excreta. The U.S. is lagging in this regard.
The bottom line? Flushing chemo patients’ contaminated excreta into Narragansett Bay or allowing it to be incinerated yields the same results: more cancer and more birth defects. The Department of Environmental Management seems willing to risk our health one way or another and spend a lot of money in the process.
The good news? There are safe and reliable ways to solve this problem. We can continue to treat cancer with chemotherapy drugs, save lives, and prevent secondhand exposure to chemotherapy chemicals without contaminating our water or our air. Big Pharma and insurance companies are well aware of the hidden dangers associated with chemotherapy. They know there is an answer to the problem, but they are unwilling to acknowledge the facts or pay for the solution. It’s going to take government intervention to make that happen.
Jim Mullowney is the President & CEO of Pharma-Cycle LLC with an office in Newport, RI.