HCN News & Notes

Residents Reminded to Properly Dispose of Medical Waste

SPRINGFIELD — On June 29, alarms were triggered at the Covanta Waste to Energy plant in Agawam by small quantities of short-lived radioactive substances of medical origin. The waste was brought in by a city of Springfield trash truck that had collected waste in the 16 Acres area and cost an additional $2,000 in regulatory fees.

An increase in alarms at the disposal facility has prompted the city of Springfield to issue a reminder to residents to properly dispose of medical waste.

This increase in alarms is due to patients who receive radiation treatments and return home from hospitals sooner and continue to excrete the byproducts of those treatments into diapers, or to an increase in diaper use by such patients. The radioisotopes present in the byproducts have a half-life of 65 days. This was the case on June 29.

Another cause of the radiation alarms sounding is animal waste disposed of in the trash. When a pet receives cancer or tumor treatments, the pet waste becomes contaminated and needs to be disposed of properly. Three contaminated trash loads from radioactive cat waste cost the city of Springfield an additional $6,000 this year.

Once a load has been identified and flagged, specialists must come in from Boston to identify the contamination. The truck must remain at the disposal facility until the specialist inspects the material, which is usually within 48 hours. The City of Springfield loses the use of this truck while this happens. Then, the contents of the truck must be spread out and monitored with a Geiger counter, the material identified, contained, labeled and stored until the levels drop enough for normal disposal. It takes between two to three months of storage for the levels to drop.

Residents disposing of regulated material are advised to consult with their doctors and veterinarians. For further information, contact Chris Cignoli, director of Public Works, at (413) 750-2808, or Scott Donelon, solid waste manager, at (413) 787-6542.