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Burning body parts nixed

Amputated body parts are no longer meeting a fiery end at Whitehorse General Hospital.The hospital’s incinerator was shut down in…

Amputated body parts are no longer meeting a fiery end at Whitehorse General Hospital.

The hospital’s incinerator was shut down in September/October, said acting CEO Nick Leenders.

The incinerator went cold after tests found it was exceeding Canada’s emissions standards.

“It was shut down voluntarily,” said Leenders.

Since then, all the hospital’s biomedical waste is being stored in a refrigerator truck, or reefer.

The biomedical waste includes “paper gowns, sharps and anatomical waste — body parts, like an amputated foot,” said Leenders.

The reefer truck works in cold temperatures, but the hospital needs a more permanent solution by summer.

“We need to move on this fairly quickly,” said Leenders.

“With the reefer truck, in the winter it’s cold enough you don’t have to worry about it running. But in the summer, if you’re trying to keep the items cold all the time that’s another issue.”

Even if the hospital managed to cut down on its biomedical waste, the incinerator is not an option.

“It’s not technologically up to date,” said Leenders.

“The Canadian standard has become a lot more stringent.”

The Whitehorse incinerator was releasing too many dioxins and furans in its smoke, said Leenders.

Dioxins and furans are toxic chemicals, according to Health Canada’s website.

“Exposure to dioxins and furans has been associated with a wide range of adverse health effects in laboratory animals and humans. The type and occurrence of these effects typically depend on the level and duration of exposure,” says the website.

Dioxins pose a serious health threat according to a draft report released for public comment in September 1994 by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The public health impact of dioxins may rival that of DDT in the 1960s, it says.

Not only does there appear to be no “safe” level of exposure to dioxins, but levels of dioxins and furans have been found in the general US population that are “at or near levels associated with adverse health effects,” according to the report.

The Whitehorse hospital plans to consult with other jurisdictions to draft a plan to dispose of its biomedical waste without burning it, said Leenders.

“Some hospitals use a hydroclave to sterilize the biomedical waste and then it goes to the landfill,” he said.

The complex engineering system essentially cures biomedical waste using high pressure and temperature, while harmful vapours are sucked out of the hydroclave by a vacuum system monitored and controlled electronically.

Until a new system is in place, the hospital plans to truck its waste to Alberta, said Leenders.

Contact Genesee Keevil at