Just on the heels of the first Ebola death in the U.S., the refusal of Louisiana to dispose of the incinerated waste from victim Thomas Eric Duncan highlights a less than well-orchestrated national response to the deadly virus.
On Monday, Louisiana’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell got a temporary restraining order to block the disposal of incinerated waste from the Dallas Ebola patient’s personal items and belongings at a Louisiana landfill.
According to the order, Louisiana officials learned through media reports—not official notification—that the ash would be transported into the state.
The state also said that no test reports were provided about the effectiveness of the incineration process, and there was no application for permits to transport what it called the “potentially infectious material” into Louisiana. EPA guidelines give state and local governments jurisdiction in the disposal of Ebola waste.
“There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of things that the attorney general’s office was not informed of,” said Laura Gerdes, a spokesperson for the office, on Monday. The “lack of information provided” by multiple sources involved detailed in the injunction includes the fact that there are no instructions from the CDC about how to dispose of or classify incinerator ash.
Caldwell’s office said in a statement that it would be “absurd to transport potentially hazardous Ebola waste across state lines” from the six truckloads of Duncan’s belongings that were incinerated at a Port Arthur, Texas facility last week. A total of 142 55-gallon containers of potentially contaminated materials were incinerated at the facility and then sent toward Louisiana by truck.
“The health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point,” said Caldwell, who is refusing to allow the ashes to be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill located three hours west of New Orleans. His decision is being supported by the Louisiana State Legislature.
The management facility originally scheduled to take the ashes, Chemical Waste Management, Inc., later refused it, saying in a statement that they “do not want to make an already complicated situation more complicated.”
Though the company’s decision is not legally binding, the state filed the injunction “out of an abundance of caution,” according to court papers.
“Even the CDC and our health care workers seem uncertain as to the effectiveness of purported protocols in dealing with Ebola,” said Caldwell.
The development comes on the heels of the first diagnosis of a case of Ebola contracted in the U.S. over the weekend by a healthcare worker who tended to Duncan at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. In a public statement, the CDC blamed a breach in procedure for the worker getting infected. The CDC has repeatedly told the public that they have educated the nation’s health care facilities about how to spot, isolate, and treat Ebola patients safely and effectively.
However, if the results of a survey by National Nurses United (NNU) are any indication, more than two-thirds of nurses are woefully unprepared to handle Ebola patients. The NNU said on Monday that over 1,900 registered nurses at over 750 facilities in 46 states and the District of Columbia responded to their queries about Ebola preparedness.
Of the nurses, 76 percent said that their hospital hasn’t communicated a policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola. Most nurses who responded—a whopping 85 percent—said that education on Ebola that was provided didn’t include a chance to ask questions.
They also reported a lack of protective gear for workers to wear and to outfit isolation rooms.
A series of scares over potential Ebola cases have made headlines in the past week, including some instances of false alarms on airplanes. Last week, an airplane was quarantined on a Las Vegas tarmac after a vomiting passenger reported feeling unwell. A Dominican Republic-bound flight was boarded by health workers in hazmat suits after a man on board joked that he had the virus.
Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa and infected twice again as many. It has about a 25 to 90 percent mortality rate, depending on the strain, according to Doctors Without Borders.