Blood, organs among infectious waste wrongly sent to Minnesota trash facility

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is investigating how a large amount of infectious human waste — including blood and organs — ended up in the trash facility for Ramsey and Washington Counties, where homes and businesses send their garbage.

It’s not built to handle infectious waste, so employees were shocked when a lot of it started showing up.

More than 1,200 tons of trash is dumped at the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Center on an average day. Most of it gets pushed onto conveyor belts and sorted.

Less than 15% of the garbage ends up in a landfill. The rest is recycled, composted, or sent to Red Wing and Mankato to be burned for fuel.

But starting in May, employees noticed items that shouldn’t be sorted there.

"Some of the materials that we're seeing include IV tubing that might have liquids, including bloody suction devices, blood-soaked bandages," said Michael Reed, the Ramsey County Public Health division manager for recycling and energy.

Employees sounded the alarm over bloody bags, intestines, and bones sent here instead of one of the state’s seven certified sites for disposing of infectious medical waste.

"And it seemed like the more we looked, the more we found coming from multiple locations," Reed said.

He called it disgusting and unacceptable.

The state requires healthcare facilities to have waste management plans identifying their infectious waste and where it goes. They’re supposed to train employees about proper disposal.

"Some of those steps are falling apart," Reed said. "And I'm not sure exactly why, but we're encouraging the healthcare facilities to revisit those plans and make sure they've got all the steps in place."

Sending infectious waste to the Ramsey/Washington facility can be much less expensive than proper disposal, but when it’s spotted, healthcare facilities end up spending even more on removing it.

Managers at the recycling and energy center couldn’t pinpoint every source, though, so they sent letters to haulers and facilities about the risks of improper disposal.

They also got the MPCA involved.

When asked for public records of complaints it received, MPCA officials said they have an active investigation and can’t release those records, instead sending a statement saying, in part, "proper disposal is essential for the protection of human health and the environment."

Employees at the recycling and energy center felt their health at risk almost every day.

They didn’t want to talk on camera for fear of risking their jobs, too.