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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Official: Mary Washington Hospital dumping did not violate state regulations

Some of the MWH waste that clogged the Fredericksburg sewer system. The photo was provided to the state by the city.

Mary Washington Hospital did not violate medical waste disposal regulations when its workers dumped material into the city sewer system, according to a state official.

The hospital debris was improperly dumped, but it was not the type of “medical waste” that is regulated by the state, said Thomas Faha, director of the Northern Regional Office for the Department of Environmental Quality.

“Just because it’s a hospital, doesn’t mean that everything that leaves the hospital is medical waste,” Faha said yesterday.

Ladun Olaseni, a DEQ inspector, visited the city last week after learning that hospital debris had entered the city sewer system and clogged the pumps at one of its pump stations.

City workers showed her some of the material they had pulled from the pumps, as well as photographs of other material.

Olaseni told her supervisors in an email that the city’s complaint to the hospital about the material was “inflammatory,” and that the debris she saw was “poorly characterized” as medical waste.

Some of the waste from MWH that clogged the city sewer system. Photo supplied by the state.

“I observed feminine sanitary napkins, tampon wrappers, a scarf, blue plastic bags, a latex glove and terrycloth washcloths,” she wrote. “I did not observe any red and/or  orange medical waste bags or regulated medical waste paraphernalia.”

Olaseni said city workers said they saw syringes in the pump well but did not retrieve them. She did not see syringes. Olaseni characterized what she did see as “improperly disposed hospital related solid waste material.”

Some of the waste from MWH that clogged the city sewer system. Photo supplied by the state.

Regulated medical waste is a waste that is capable of producing infectious disease in humans, Faha said. Excluded from the definition are personal hygiene products, such as diapers and adult incontinence products. 

“The inspector did not see anything that would trigger the definition of medical waste,” he said.

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

Hospital officials believe that the material is used by staff members to care for incontinent patients. After tending to these patients, staff members have been flushing the material down the clinical sinks rather than placing it in special bins, they said.

Hospital officials this month asked the staff to dispose of the material properly. They also reimbursed the city $6,781, the amount the city spent to clean the pumps after they became clogged.

(Earlier blog posts about the dumping and the city’s reaction can be found here and here. A Free Lance-Star editorial on the subject, which ran yesterday, can be seen here.)