Medical waste

City officials say items that have previously been identified as medical waste are now going into the garbage system because of the increase in at-home health-care programs. (CBC)

City officials in the Halifax Regional Municipality are worried about medical waste produced from at-home health-care programs and say some items in the garbage system pose a risk to workers.

Gord Helm, the manager of solid waste resources at the Halifax Regional Municipality, said the issue needs to be discussed because of the increase in health-care programs outside a hospital setting.

"It includes dialysis programs or other programs where patients are sent home from the hospital and are able to get treatment at home. It generates some forms of waste that would normally have been found in hospitals," he said.

"There are some materials that are generated that we would have no problems with but there are other potential materials that are generated that we might have a problem with."

Medical waste from hospitals in the Halifax Regional Municipality does not end up in the city's landfill. The material is sent to the Burnside Industrial Park, where it's sterilized and buried at a private site.

City officials are threatening to reject garbage bags with medical waste, but the Health and Wellness, Environment and Labour departments said they believe the waste can be disposed of safely.

"If you think of things that we put into our household garbage on a regular basis, we have infant diapers and we have sanitary napkins and we have all kinds of things that contain blood and body fluids that go into regular garbage," said Suzanne Rhodenizer Rose, the director of infection prevention and control for the Department of Health and Wellness.

"This home-care waste is no more infectious than that type of garbage."

The clear bag effect

Health officials said patients are told to drain all tubes and bags so no fluids are put into their garbage bags. They said as long as garbage workers are properly trained and wear the right equipment, there shouldn't be any problems.

But a report released this week by staff at the Halifax Regional Municipality makes it clear city managers are worried and think the workers are at greater risk because of the city's continued use of black and green garbage bags.

"For the jurisdictions that have clear bags, it's a lot easier for the staff, the collections staff, to deal with that material that's in the waste stream," said Helm.

About 75 per cent of municipalities in Nova Scotia already use clear garbage bags, but Halifax regional council is still a few months away from voting on that issue.