photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – For years the Sint Maarten Medical Center in Philipsburg disposed of medical waste from the operating room and surgical materials by transporting it to the nearby dump to be burned. This happened on top of the 44 meter high dump. Syringes, pills, and laboratory flasks are still there for the taking.

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By Tim van Dijk (English subtitles available

The hospital confirmed the practice of transporting medical waste to the dump in a written statement. The dump doesn’t possess an incinerator which is rated for medical waste.

Atop of the dump, an old, rusted ISO tank can be found. Photo: Tim van Dijk

Atop of the dump, an old, rusted ISO tank can be found, which has had its sides cut out for ventilation. Inside the tank there’s a big pile of ash and around it the ground is littered with brown laboratory flasks, ampules, syringes, and pill strips.

‘Finding alternative means’
The director of the Sint Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) dr. Felix Holiday was not available for comment. A written statement from the hospital’s spokesperson states that authorities recently decided to stop the burning of medical waste atop the dump. ‘The SMMC had to find alternative means of disposing of its medical waste, one of which is the use of the cremation oven at the funeral home in Sucker Garden.’

Director of the Royal Funeral Home & Cremation in Sucker Garden, Franklin Meyers, confirms that an agreement has been in place ‘for a mere two weeks’ to incinerate the SMMC’s medical waste. Every other day sixty to eighty bags containing amputated limbs, fetuses, surgical materials, and other medical waste are brought to Sucker Garden.

Syringes, pills, and laboratory flasks are there for the taking at the dump. Photo: Tim van Dijk.

According to the statement put out by the hospital, the agreement with the Royal Funeral Home & Crematorium is a ‘temporary’ one. ‘Conversations with the government to come up with a permanent solution are ongoing’, according to the hospital. “We’re currently thinking about cooperating with the hospital on the French side of the island and the French authorities to come up with a joint solution for medical waste disposal.”

The laboratory in the SMMC belongs to the Sint Maarten Laboratory Services which is situated across the road from the SMMC. According to the SLS director, Nasser Ajubi, the medical waste is thoroughly disinfected before it is transported to the dump. SLS purchased an autoclave, a high-pressure steam system, which can disinfect instruments, glass, plastic, swabs, and fluids.

SLS owns three of these systems, a large one at their facility opposite the SMMC and two smaller ones as back-ups. They are used for the disinfection of the waste collected at the phlebotomy center opposite the hospital, the hospital laboratory, and the SLS laboratory in Simpson Bay.

According to director Ajubi, the bins containing syringes are hermetically sealed before they are transported to the dump. SLS wants to invest in a grinder to transform the medical waste into recyclable materials, explains Ajubi.