EDITORIAL – Brac’s untreated medical waste is a ‘pan-Cayman’ problem

Appearing on the front page of Tuesday’s newspaper was an image both unsightly and unhealthy – piles of untreated medical waste dumped into an open pit at the Cayman Brac landfill … and mixed in with other materials, including bags of bird feed!

Do you know what bags of bird feed attract? That’s right: Birds. Specifically, flocks of chickens foraging for food in the open pit, and roaming about the landfill, which in addition to being “unlined” is also “unfenced.” In other words, it is entirely possible, even likely, for pets or feral animals to be scurrying from untreated medical waste, to general garbage, and then into somebody’s yard or home.

The dozens of red biohazard bags observed by a Compass reporter in the Brac landfill constitute a dangerous and irresponsible disregard for public health that cannot be allowed to continue.

The bags are used by the Brac’s Faith Hospital to hold used syringes, blood- and fluid-soaked bandages and other used medical materials. By law, the waste is to be incinerated or sanitized by the Department of Environmental Health before disposal, to prevent the possible spread of infectious disease. (Importantly, it is not the hospital’s duty to incinerate the waste. Their job is done once they bag it and leave it for collection by DEH.)

This improper, potentially dangerous, and possibly illegal disposal apparently has been happening since at least April 11, when the landfill incinerator broke down. Officials say they are waiting for replacement parts to be shipped from overseas. When the reporter asked the DEH to detail what measures were being taken to treat the medical waste, officials replied that it was “layered with soil as often as is practicable.”

The department did not respond to questions about how the disposal method is in accordance with public health regulations for medical waste disposal. Environmental Health Minister Dwayne Seymour did not respond to calls or messages seeking comment.

Malicious or not, the department could hardly have done it better if they’d been trying to spread disease or pestilence.

Tack on the task of “cleaning up the medical mess on the Brac” to the long list of items on the DEH’s to-do list, which is growing as rapidly as the overflowing George Town landfill.

Public health experts from the United States gasped at the conditions at the Brac landfill as described by our reporter. One of them responded, off the cuff, that he was “so sorry.”

The bottom line is that the people on the Brac are “our people.” (Many are “our readers,” as well.)

Historically, what happens on the Brac often stays on the Brac. Brackers are, and always have been, fiercely independent. They have their own way of doing things. They take care of business on their own.

By default, we are major proponents of the laissez-faire approach to, well, just about anything. But “hands off” doesn’t mean “eyes off,” particularly when it comes to the Brac, where the Cayman Islands government has society on long-term life support, courtesy of a steady infusion of taxpayer dollars – largely supplied by residents and businesses on Grand Cayman.

It is worth noting that the Compass was able to uncover the medical waste story because we were on the scene – having purposefully sent a reporter to the Brac to cover newsworthy issues there. Going forward, this paper intends to maintain a regular presence on the Sister Islands, to better serve our readers.

2 COMMENTS

  1. As I posted on the original story, what’s disturbing about this is that the George Town landfill had exactly the same problem with their waste incinerator back in 2007. In that case the area surrounding the machine ended up as a dumping ground for unprocessed clinical waste. When I was there many of the bags had split open and there were sharps lying on the ground.

    DEH seem to have a pretty abysmal track record when it comes to equipment maintenance don’t they? Looking back over the past decade I’ve lost track of the number of stories the Compass has published about their mechanical problems and breakdowns, which in many cases seem to have been caused simply by staff not have the necessary skills or training to look after the machinery. What’s most worrying is the excuses always boil down to something along the lines of ‘we’re waiting for parts.’ If I remember correctly one breakdown was blamed on a failed hydraulic hose, something that in most parts of the world could be fabricated on-site in under an hour. I suspect the underlying problem here is simply the normal public sector ‘job for life’ mentality that pervades the whole civil service. The machinery isn’t the employee’s responsibility and if it gets busted they don’t have to work it so why rush to get it fixed? In the UK pretty much all the garbage collection and processing has been privatised. Although that’s not entirely without problems it’s very unlikely that anything like this would happen if the work was being done by a private contractor and maybe that’s the answer?

  2. Yes David the DEH has been making those lame and feeble excuses far too long to be excepted today , about waiting for parts to fix equipment . Today you can get any and everything else delivered in Cayman within 48 hours, but DEH has to wait for months . Something is really wrong , and I believe that is that they don’t get enough hell from the Citizens to fix these issues . That could also apply to the whole Government.