How do you dispose of a positive antigen test? Do you put the material in a biohazard bag and carefully put it in the trash? What happens once a positive test kit is thrown away?
Thousands of antigen tests are being used in Kerry in recent weeks – and more are set to be used in the future – raising concerns about whether they are being disposed of safely and efficiently. No.
On a recent walk in the trolley, I saw pieces of antigen test scattered on the road next to a pile of garbage. This got me thinking about the amount of antigen tests currently being used and how they are being administered.
An antigen test consists of three main components: a swab, a mini-testing panel, and a liquid capsule. When a positive test is detected, it means that all three ingredients immediately pose a health risk, or at least that’s how most people would see it.
The use of antigen tests has grown rapidly since the rise of Omicron in late November. Tests are now widely used, often several times a week depending on a person’s circumstances. This has boosted demand to such an extent that during the Christmas period shortages of testing kits were reported in parts of Kerry.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is currently examining proposals that would mean people with a positive antigen test would no longer need a PCR test, while Sinn Féin is calling on the government to make antigen testing free. This is all good news in terms of efficiency, but it could mean further increased demand for antigen tests.
Earlier this month HSE ordered an additional 15 million antigen tests to meet public demand. HSE also estimates that around 300,000 tests have been sent to homes since early January.
One pharmacy told The Kerryman this week that they are still finding it difficult to keep stock. So what does this mean for all used tests?
It’s difficult to estimate the exact number of test kits that have passed through Kerry’s household waste network in recent weeks, even though it’s safe to assume it should now be in the thousands.
I’m sure many people honestly use biohazard bags when disposing of test kits, but others most likely don’t. A US contamination study in 2020 said it is possible for COVID to remain contagious on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours.
The bottom line here is that if antigen tests used in a hospital or pharmacy setting are treated as biohazard material, and destroyed under strict supervision, does this mean that test kits in a home setting are Should the practices for disposal be strict?
Kerryman contacted six household garbage disposal operators in the county to find out what test kits contain in household waste. Only three operators were available to comment.
The main reaction of the three who commented is that they did not know whether there was an increase in test kits because household waste is exported to designated landfills in Cork and Limerick. they too It declined to answer whether employees were involved in segregating this waste prior to export.
Kerry County Council (KCC) still operates a waste collection service in Killarney and facilitates the compacting and onward transportation of various wastes from its five civic facility sites in Killarney, Miltown, Kenmare, Cahersiven and Dingle. However, KCC has no inputs where private waste disposal companies export garbage.
Asked whether it had noticed an increase in antigen tests at these sites, the KCC said it could not comment on the matter with certainty as there is no way to test or monitor this lack of open litter bags. .
Under its policy on waste water and waste management, KCC is required to dispose of any hazardous waste in a safe manner as per the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan (NHWMP).
It is the same NHWMP that works in conjunction with the government’s ‘Action Plan for Antimicrobial Resistance’; A strategy that consistently highlights the importance of avoiding putting medical waste in household waste.
The new ‘Health National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2021-2025’ was updated in November 2021 to include a section on the challenge posed by COVID, but no reference to how antigen testing should be available in the interest of public health Is.
Testing kits purchased from stores and pharmacies instruct people to put the kit in the trash. This advice is in line with HSE’s own website. In the UK, the NHS recommends that test kits be kept in a biohazard bag, but kept ‘in another plastic bag’.
A US-based medical website indicated that since the contents of the rapid antigen test are considered ‘hazardous waste’, they should be ‘separated from other waste located around the area and should not be thrown into general garbage or dustbins’.
I contacted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to find out if there is, and if not, there should be, a policy for disposing of antigen tests. The EPA said it was a ‘policy-related’ question and a matter for the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC).
When contacted, DECC suggested that I approach HSE, which I did but am still awaiting reply. However, a DECC spokesperson confirmed that the antigen test allows the test components to be placed in the residual waste bin. It also directed me to mywaste.ie for further guidelines on handling of COVID waste, but it did not have specific information on antigen tests.
Finally, while much of the debate on antigen tests at the moment has to do with cost, efficiency, and availability, are we overlooking another potential health factor surrounding the antigen tests used? Are there any subliminal threats to public health yet from the way antigen tests are disposed of? Are there any environmental risks?
The purpose of this article is not to answer but to raise questions. In a county where fly tipping is already a problem, adding a positive antigen test to the mix in the long run is the last thing we need. All expert opinion welcome.