The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

July 10, 2013

Medical waste affects city's garbage pickup

— The radioactive medical waste of one Athens resident has been stalling city garbage trucks for days at a time each week while state environmental officials find and dispose of the waste.

The incident has occurred three times over the past three weeks, Public Works Director James Rich said Tuesday.

City officials are not angry with the resident, they just want the person to know the city will collect medical waste as long as it is separated from regular household garbage. To arrange the pickup, telephone Lisa Vaughn at 256-233-8747.

Radioactive waste can come from nuclear medicine treatments, cancer therapies and medical equipment that uses radioactive isotopes. Pathological waste that is contaminated with radioactive material is treated as radioactive waste rather than infectious waste.

Rich said when a garbage truck driver finishes his route, he takes the load to the city’s garbage transfer station so it can be compacted and transferred elsewhere. During that process, the waste is scanned to determine whether radioactive waste lies within. If it does, the city has to call the Alabama Department of Environmental Management in Montgomery and report the waste. An ADEM inspector must be sent to Athens to find the waste and determine how long it will take for the radioactive material to decay enough to allow it back into the environment. The garbage truck carrying the radioactive waste must remain at the transfer station until the inspector arrives and can make such a determination.

“That can take three or four days,” Rich said.

Because the city has no extra garbage trucks, the delay really puts a crimp in the collection process, he said. 

When radioactive waste was found in a garbage truck again Tuesday, ADEM was called and Rich called The News Courier to try to get the word out to the resident with the radioactive medical waste.

Over the past 10 years, the city has never had an indication of radioactive waste until the past three weeks, Rich said. He is not sure if that is because no one has ever disposed of radioactive waste before or because the machine at the transfer station was recently recalibrated.

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