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Millions of used dangerous Covid-19 tests ‘piled high’

09 Feb Millions of used dangerous Covid-19 tests ‘piled high’

The UK’s testing capacity for Covid-19 may be helping to avert a further rise in case numbers – but the waste produced means a disposal disaster is looming.

According to Government figures, the UK is now testing over 580,000 people per day – or over 4 million people per week – for the Covid-19 virus which is circulating amongst the population. This number includes tests taken at Covid testing centres, door-to-door tests, and the quicker lateral flow tests being used in workplaces and schools – but does not include antibody tests, which check if a person has had the virus previously, so the true number of daily test kits used is likely to be much higher.

Rubbish removal experts have raised the alarm over the sheer volume of testing kits being used daily and concerns of the accuracy as low as 57.5% making this a very dangerous problem. There is a mounting problem for testing centres and facilities: what to do with hundreds of thousands of used tests daily?

As the Covid-19 testing process involves either nasal or throat swabs (or, for antibody testing, blood samples) the kits must then be disposed of as clinical waste, in incinerators. In the past, individual hospitals often had their own incinerators to dispose of medical waste, but this idea was short-lived as the resulting pollution was a concern, and private contractors have handled the waste since the 1990s.

But these contractors are now raising the alarm that their incinerators are at full capacity, and have been for a while, with medical waste quite literally piling up, as a result, the instantly-recognizable yellow medical waste bins overflowing. In turn, this has angered those in the industry who say they have been warning the government ‘for years’ about the need for increased capacity.

NHS chiefs admitted in 2018 that there was a national capacity issue amid growing backlogs of medical waste and clinical waste management firms being forced to store waste above their permitted allowance as a result. Despite this, waste management firms are once again warning of mounting problems as Covid-19 testing places unexpected stress on the system.

Firms, fearful of repercussions like those seen by waste management businesses who were penalised during the 2018 crisis, are turning away contracts for Covid-19 test centre waste, leading many to call the issue a public health ‘emergency’.