The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued five "non-site-specific" special permits to companies for handling waste related to the Ebola virus that has killed one patient in the United States, triggering fear about the spread of the disease.
There has also been concern about waste related to Ebola, which causes fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea and has killed nearly 4,900 people, most of them in West Africa. Two nurses who helped treat the U.S. patient in Dallas tested positive for the disease and underwent treatment.
The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and is not airborne.
A spokeswoman for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a Transportation Department agency, said the special permits had been issued to: Veolia ES Technical Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of French waste management firm Veolia Envirronment VE SA; Lake Forest Illinois-based Stericyle Inc; Somerville, Massachusetts-based Triumvirate Environmental Inc; Scottsbluff, Nebraska-based Smith Systems Transportation Inc and Spartanburg, South Carolina-based Advanced Environmental Options Inc.
Under the permits, the five companies are not limited as to where they can pick up Ebola-related waste or dispose of it.
Veolia's permit is listed on the pipeline and hazardous materials unit website and is good until March 31, 2015.
Advanced Environmental Options account manager Dana West confirmed that her company, whose customers include healthcare providers and hospitals, has received a nationwide permit for handling Ebola waste, valid until March 31. The permit can be extended for up to two years.
AEO has had two training sessions for employees on treating Ebola waste. It must be disinfected, put in a red "bio bag," disinfected, then, in another bag, disinfected, then put in a 55-gallon watertight drum containing disinfectant that is sealed and, once again, disinfected. The waste must then be incinerated.
West said employees have been trained on what equipment to wear and the company has experience handling "Category A" waste, as the Transportation Department, classifies Ebola.
"We wanted to be as prepared and ready as possible for an Ebola event," she said. "If we're prepared, it reduces the risks the proper procedures won't be followed.
"Frankly we've handled much worse than Ebola before," West said. "We feel pretty confident that with the way things are proceeding (in the United States), we'll never have to use this permit."
None of the other four companies responded to a request for comment.
Anne Germain, director of waste and recycling technology at the National Waste & Recycling Association, an industry group, said that although many of its members have not handled Category A waste before, they are familiar with federal guidelines for handling the waste.
"Our members have decades of experience dealing with healthcare waste" and now have the information to handle Ebola-infected materials. The incinerators they use kill a broad range of pathogens, including the Ebola virus, she added.