Mass. Bill: Chemo patients would have to collect own waste
This is an Article, in which I gave an interview for, about a Massachusetts Senate Bill that clearly “Shocks the Conscience.” It appeared in the “Waste and Recycling News” on November 29. Read the Article below:
By Jeremy Carroll | WRN reporter
Nov. 29 — Cancer patients in Massachusetts would have to collect their urine and feces for days after chemotherapy treatments to be disposed as hazardous waste, under a proposal by a state senator.
Senate Bill 1089 would order health care professionals to give chemotherapy patients the means to collect and dispose of bodily wastes following treatment. The bill was introduced by Sen. James Eldridge, D-Worcester.
“It would hopefully eliminate a lot of toxic chemicals from entering the public water system,” Eldridge said.
The senator said he is concerned that some chemotherapy treatments enter the patient and do not fully process by the time it leaves the body. It ends up being flushed into a community´s wastewater treatment facility or local septic systems.
“It´s a real concern that the people receiving these treatments are having a lot of toxic chemicals enter their bodies,” he said. “And these patients get discharged from hospitals or other health care facilities, [and] there´s no way for them to prevent those chemicals, through their bodily waste, from entering the water system.”
While any amount of chemotherapy drugs left unprocessed would be extremely diluted, Eldridge said the reason for the bill is because experts are unsure if newer drugs are surviving traditional wastewater treatment facilities.
“The answer is, we don´t exactly know,” he said. “So let´s try to prevent those chemicals from entering the water system to begin with.”
Jim Mullowney, CEO of Pharma-Cycle Inc., a startup company looking to provide treatment systems for in-home waste, is pushing for the bill´s passage.
He said the way materials surrounding chemotherapy drugs are handled tells you all you need to know about the dangers of them.
“The empty vials, the empty IV bags, the gloves nurses wear, everything that comes into contact with these materials, even in trace amounts, is being treated like it was a chemical weapon,” Mullowney said. “Yet, we inject it into a patient where it passes through the body in three or four days.”
He said not all chemotherapy drugs pass through the body unprocessed, but a handful do.
“If they took the same chemicals and put them down the drain at the hospital, they would arrest the CEO of the hospital and throw them in jail,” he said. “We wouldn´t stand for it. But for some reason, because we treat them as medicines, we ignore the chemistry.”
Mullowney said even trace amounts of these drugs can be extremely dangerous, as they are often given to patients in nanograms per liter, or one billionth of a gram.
“It´s really common sense,” he said. “How we let this happen is beyond me.”
Not everyone is supportive of the measure. Political analyst Mitch Baroody said it is unfair to pick out just chemotherapy patients, as other pharmaceuticals are often found in studies that search for those items in public water systems. Such a move to single out one type of patient may be unconstitutional, he said.
“The point here is, if you are going to put excessive regulations on cancer patients, then you should put those same excessive regulations on anyone that uses medicine [where the medicine] excretes through the body´s waste disposal systems,” he said.
The bill had a public hearing last month and remains in committee.
“It´s the first time I´ve brought the bill forward,” Eldridge said. “It´s something that is a concern for a lot of legislators, but I think there needs to be an education about these chemicals [to other lawmakers].”
He said he is working hard to get the bill out of committee. The Massachusetts legislative session ends in July 2012.
Marc Hymovitz, director of government relations and advocacy for the American Cancer Society in the New England area, said the organization does not have a position on the proposal.
“It´s not an issue we´ve looked at,” he said by email.