Talking trash: A new way to toss bio-medical
It's a dirty job, but Murry Vance thinks he has
the clean answer.
The reason: Since the early 1990s, environmental concerns have
targeted the traditional method of incinerating bio-medical waste. That method
can produce toxic emissions and create negative health impacts, they say.
Enter Murry Vance.
The Central Florida inventor and entrepreneur believes he has
found the answer in plasma arc technology.
Using electrical energy to zap even the most hazardous and
infectious medical waste back to its basic elemental forms, plasma technology is
gaining attention in the medical industry as a safer and environmentally
friendly way to dispose of all medical waste from body parts, needles and
bloodied garments to paper and plastics.
In fact, Florida Hospital-Waterman in Tavares recently entered
into a five-year agreement with Bio Arc Inc., a subsidiary of Tavares-based Arc
Technologies Group, to use Vance's plasma arc reduction unit.
"The plasma arc technology provides the ideal solution for the
problems health care institutions face with disposing of waste," says Dr. Jaime
Carrizosa, an infectious disease specialist from Florida Hospital and a member
of Arc Technologies' board. "It's a totally environmentally sound process and
offers easy disposal of the waste." Trash talk
Disposing of biomedical waste is a dirty -- and expensive --
According to Jack Glezen, president and founder of
Michigan-based Environmental Research Associates, hospitals generate about 30
pounds of waste per patient day. Depending on size, that adds up to between 1.1
million tons and 3.5 million tons of waste a year.
About 90 percent of that garbage is general waste. The rest is
considered hazardous: Dubbed "red-bag waste," it has to be disposed of carefully
to ensure residual infections are destroyed.
In the past, the waste was hauled off to incinerators, but at a
hefty price. While general trash was taken away and incinerated at about 2 cents
per pound, hazardous waste cost hospitals between 20 to 30 cents per pound, says
There also was an environmental price. Burned medical waste
emits toxic substances and known carcinogens. In fact, incinerators were found
to be responsible for 8 percent of total national mercury emissions in the
United States in 1989.
As a result, that year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
beefed up the rules regulating incinerator emissions, cutting allowed levels
between 75 percent and 98 percent. When the cuts began, 2,400 biomedical
incinerators were burning up trash across the nation. Today, that number is
about 80. Bio-incineration
Alternatives have been developed.
Innovators are sterilizing the waste with high-pressure steam or
microwaves to eradicate the most infectious diseases and microbes before
shredding the waste for disposal.
Plasma arc technology is the newest kid on the incineration
block. According to Vance, the technology is a waste-to-energy process, which
uses a cloud of inert, hot gases and an energy source to destroy waste. Within
minutes, 50 pounds of waste is reduced to a little less than 8 ounces of
residual, environmentally friendly elements that can be flushed into the sewage
system, and steam that can be used to fuel boilers and heat water.
Medical experts agree plasma arc technology is an important
development for the industry. In addition to the traditional environmental
issues of bio-medical waste disposal, the medical industry now also has to
consider the use of this waste in acts of bioterrorism, says Carrizosa. The
reason: Bacteria and infections can remain on incinerated biomedical waste and
be captured for other uses.
But plasma arc technology eliminates those concerns.
Burn, baby, burn
Vance worked on the plasma arc reduction unit
for 13 years, investing more than $13 million in the project from Arc
Technologies' 280 shareholders.
During research and development, Vance had two small, clinical
units at the Central Florida Blood Bank, along with test units in Miami and New
Vance's first production unit was installed at Florida
Hospital-Waterman 60 days ago, where it disposes of all the hospital's red-bag
hazardous waste and confidential patient waste products. The unit destroys 600
pounds of waste per hour, and is run for four-and-a-half hours every other day.
While Vance continues to market his plasma arc unit
domestically, it also is receiving international attention. Acciona, an
environmental management firm in Spain, has signed an export deal for 150 units
over the next three years.
Further, Vance may market the unit to other industries. He has
identified 27 types of waste the unit can destroy, including agricultural waste,
sewage sludge and low-level radioactive waste.
"I created a device that would handle any kind of waste," notes
Vance. "It can process anything."