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Containers Sought to Ease Medical Waste Buildup at Luis Hospital

Aug. 11, 2006 – The buildup of medical waste at Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix is due to the late arrival of shipping containers from Puerto Rico, according to Gregory Calliste, the hospital's executive director.
During a Finance Committee meeting Monday, Calliste addressed reports recently published in the media about the waste accumulation, and told senators that the hospital is currently looking for other containers to ship the waste off-island.
"What happens is that we generally ship the waste to Miami," Calliste said. "So it goes from the hospital, through Customs and then onto Puerto Rico, where it's sent to the mainland."
He said, "If anything goes wrong in that chain, then there's a buildup. And for the last few months, the two dumpsters that we usually get to ship the waste out have not been coming back through from Puerto Rico."
Calliste said the hospital and the Department and Planning and Natural Resources' Division of Environmental Protection, along with V.I. Regulated Waste Management Inc. – which is contracted by the hospital to pick up the waste and ship it off-island – are actively working to find new containers for the waste.
"We expect that four containers will be here within the next week, and one or two more should be here next week from Puerto Rico," Calliste said.
In response to concerns from senators worried about the buildup, he said the hospital is looking into purchasing a machine which would convert the medical waste, which can't be taken to a landfill, into regular waste, which can be taken to a landfill.
Called an autoclave, this machine is a pressurized device designed to heat water above its boiling point, subsequently turning some liquid substances into vapor, and killing bacteria on items such as hypodermic needles and other medical tools.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site, medical waste is any waste "generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals." This includes bacterial culture dishes, discarded surgical instruments such as scalpels, needles used to give shots or draw blood, and removed body organs.
"We haven't been able to purchase one of these machines before because of a lack of funds," Calliste said. "Initially, the price was somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000. Now the price has dropped to between $100,000 and $200,000, which makes it more reasonable for us."
He added that the hospital currently pays Regulated Waste Management up to $200,000 annually to ship the waste off-island.
Present during Friday's meeting were Sens. Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Terrence Nelson, Ronald E. Russell and Usie R. Richards.
Sens. Roosevelt C. David and Norman Jn Baptiste were absent.

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