Insights From Behind the Scenes

As we live through this unprecedented and challenging time in human history, I thought that I would share with you a quick story of how a small government agency (PHMSA) worked with industry and other government agencies to keep Americans safe.

In 2014, the US was faced with an issue that it hadn’t dealt with before. A gentleman who was infected with Ebola Viral Disease (EVD), walked into a hospital in Dallas, TX. In the realm of hazardous materials, EVD, when transported as a lab specimen is considered a Category A infectious substance. Biologically, as an infected person gets sicker, the virus count increases in their bodily fluids, because of this, any linens or personal protective equipment (PPE) coming from the hospital room, had to be classified as a Category A, Infectious Substance. Unfortunately, the USDOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) only had approved packagings for small lab samples or small amounts of waste Category A, Infectious Substances. The hospital in Dallas was now faced with moving hundreds of gallons of waste containers with contaminated linens, and PPE.

The regulated medical waste contractor for the hospital contacted PHMSA in hopes to receive a special permit to remove the accumulated waste in the hospital. The team at PHMSA began their work. The chemists, engineers, attorneys and special permits staff worked together to develop a robust packaging system that would protect the people working in the hospital and the waste collection workers. The PHMSA staff collaborated with CDC, EPA, NIH and FMCSA to ensure that their solution to this unanswered problem was based upon sound engineering and science. The new packaging system for waste contaminated with a Category A Infectious Substance was designed and approved within 48 hours of receipt of the special permit application. A truly herculean effort.

I remember the stress that we all felt inside the halls of DOT, trying to provide practical solutions for people doing the actual work, and that was for only one patient. What we are dealing with today with the COVID-19 pandemic is monumentally more complex and devastating.

I am grateful for all the incredible professionals at PHMSA, DOT, CDC, EPA, HHS, DHS, state and local governments, etc. who are working hard to develop practical solutions for this incredibly dynamic reality that we find ourselves in today. Of course, my deepest thanks go out to all the essential people engaged in this life or death fight: doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, janitors, truck drivers, grocery clerks, package delivery drivers, firefighters, EMTs, police officers, postal workers, military personnel, and on and on.

For the rest of us, who can work from home, STAY HOME! Do things like play games, binge watch shows, make puzzles, write stories, write songs, have virtual happy hours, read, get to know the people in your house, take an opportunity to be where your feet are. If not for you and your family, then stay home, for all of the groups that I listed above, give them a chance to win this fight.