Top News

RUSSELL WANGERSKY: It’s medical waste — treat it that way

Abandoned mask near a city catch basin. RUSSELL WANGERSKY/SALTWIRE NETWORK
Abandoned mask near a city catch basin. RUSSELL WANGERSKY/SALTWIRE NETWORK

Years ago — years and years and years ago — when I was training as a firefighter, one of the key lessons was about responsibility. About how, when you take something on, you don’t just decide you’re tired or can’t be bothered, drop your tools and walk away.

Not too many years later, in a volunteer fire department a good distance from the nearest ambulance service, I also took first aid training. That training stressed that you are supposed to do what many people won’t — take control of a medical situation — and that you are also responsible for keeping that control until you can hand it over to better-trained medical personnel.

As part of that hand-over process, you’re responsible for handing over as much information on your patient or patients as you can — but your personal responsibility doesn’t even end there.

If you put on personal protective equipment, or PPE, like gloves (and of course you put on PPE like gloves), you were responsible for ensuring that your gloves are taken off properly — there’s a specific method for removing gloves so that your bare hands don’t come in contact with the outside contaminated surface. On top of that, you’re also responsible for the proper treatment of what has become biomedical waste.

For your safety, for everyone’s safety, you don’t flick them out the window of your car. You don’t drop them in your now-abandoned shopping cart. Your responsibility doesn’t end with the moment that gear is merely out of your grasp.

Maybe that’s why I’m finding the current treatment of surgical masks and gloves so startling. They are, quite simply, everywhere. Next to sidewalks. On lawns. Caught up in catch basins and city brooks. On the edges of highways and secondary roads.


You put on a mask to make sure the virus does not spread via your breath to someone else. Having put that mask on, it is also your responsibility to ensure that the piece of potentially biomedically contaminated waste you take away from your face does not get into contact with others.


I saw a pair of black nitrile surgical gloves on a lawn about two blocks from my house, a pair of gloves that had been run over by a lawnmower so that the ground was strewn with dismembered, deflated fingers like some sort of pantomime horrible accident scene.

They’re caught in the silt and sand of road runoff, on the tide line at beaches, even left under picnic tables in day parks.

The worst places? Near grocery stores, which, for the volume of traffic alone makes some sense, and around city hospitals, which seem to suffering from sudden snowfalls of used personal protective equipment.

It’s a near-universal problem, and, like most things, it runs downhill.

On World Oceans Day, June 8, Mark Spalding, the president of World Oceans Day, had this to say about COVID-19 biomedical waste: “The pandemic has increased dramatically the use of single-use plastics, particularly in PPE, to protect those who are working with those with the disease and prevent its spread — and we’re seeing a lot of that end up in the ocean.”

We all share a level of responsibility right now.

Some interpret that responsibility as the need to keep themselves from getting infected with the virus.

That’s pretty selfish — the real responsibility here is to ensure that you’re not responsible for spreading that infection to others.

You put on a mask to make sure the virus does not spread via your breath to someone else. Having put that mask on, it is also your responsibility to ensure that the piece of potentially biomedically contaminated waste you take away from your face does not get into contact with others.

And that doesn’t just mean out of sight, and completely out of mind.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories