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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Hospital waste found in city sewer system probably comes from hospital’s hoppers

Hospital officials believe that the waste that's clogging the city sewer system originates in the hospital's clinical sinks or "hoppers" like this one.

Mary Washington Hospital officials believe that the medical waste found in the city sewer system gets there when employees dump waste products in the hospital’s clinical sinks or “hoppers.”

Hospital officials said they’ve tried to stop the dumping by posting notices above the sinks and by reminding employees about the proper disposal of medical material.

The clinical sinks are wall-mounted,  2 feet by 2 feet, with deep basins, large drains, spigots and spray arms. They flush like toilets.

The sinks are standard equipment in hospitals. Mary Washington has 62 of them, found on patient floors and in the intensive care units. Staff members use them after caring for incontinent patients.

“You have soiled patients who are unconscious and have to be tended to, or they could be conscious and not able to take good care of themselves,” said Allen Bryan, administrative director for facilities development and construction.

Staff members use bed pads, adult diapers, wipes, gloves and disposable wash cloths in caring for these patients. Afterwards they carry the material to one of the sinks, often in utility closets.

Employees are taught to separate the human waste from the other material, to flush the waste in the sinks and toss the rest in special bins.

A sign posted above one of the clinical sinks at Mary Washington Hospital.

Apparently some employees are not doing that. Instead, they’re flushing everything down the sinks. From there, it ends up in the city sewer system.

City Manager Beverly Cameron recently complained to hospital officials that the material has been clogging a pumping station just off the hospital campus in an adjoining office park.

The hospital this month reimbursed the city $6,781, the amount the city spent to clean the pumps after they became clogged.

City workers used hooks to retrieve some of the material and traced it to the hospital.

In a July 15 letter to the hospital, Cameron described the offending material as gauze bandages, latex gloves, tape, medical waste bags, trash bags, towels and syringes.

In interviews today, hospital officials disputed that its syringes are being flushed into the city system.

Bryan said that city workers spotted what they believed to be syringes in the pump pool, but never retrieved them and never identified them as coming from the hospital.

Officials said they would continue to work with the city, monitor the waste that’s leaving the hospital, and talk with the staff.  “We have to continue to reinforce our education,” said Marianna Bedway, vice president for clinical support.

(For more on how hospital waste has been clogging the city sewer system, see the story soon in the paper. An earlier post on the topic can be found here.)