Athens, Ga. – The State of Georgia Environmental Protection Division has cited the University of Georgia for operating three incinerators out of compliance with its air quality permit under the Georgia Air Quality Act. The incinerators-located in Athens at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Poultry Diagnostic Research Center, and the Animal Health Research Center-are permitted to burn pathological waste but also were burning waste defined by the EPD as medical/infectious, according to the notice of violation.
According to College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Sheila Allen, the violation is based on the definitions of “pathological” versus “medical/infectious” waste, not the possibility that infectious agents survived incineration. Such agents are destroyed at temperatures up to approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, while the incinerators operate at 1,550 to 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. “We are confident that public health and safety were not endangered at any point,” Allen said.
The issue came to light on July 7 when a facility manager at the AHRC called EPD to ask a question about materials being incinerated. Through annual inspections of the facilities, UGA believed EPD was aware of materials being incinerated in the facilities and that it had the appropriate permit, but the discussion led EPD to conduct a previously unscheduled inspection on July 8. The facilities immediately stopped burning medical/infectious wastes upon learning of the potential violation, and during the interim will dispose of such wastes through alternative approved means. An official notice of violation was received by the university on July 16.
A federal rule allows incinerators permitted to burn pathological waste to also burn up to 10 percent medical/infectious waste, and UGA was permitted to do so prior to 2000. The UGA facilities are eligible to apply for such an exemption which, if granted, will bring the PDRC and diagnostic laboratory incinerators back into compliance. The AHRC can continue to dispose of medical/infectious waste through autoclaving or rendering in a tissue digester. For long-term AHRC research, the incinerator is necessary as a redundant system for disposing of such materials on a temporary basis, should equipment used routinely require maintenance. The AHRC will work with the EPD to obtain the permit that will allow this redundant safety measure to be restored.