ABRA-cadabra: Bio-recovery conference highlights risks, rewards
June 11, 2007
It’s something many people wouldn’t give a second thought: a slip, an accident, and suddenly there’s a small pool of blood on the floor. Instinctively the thought is, “Clean it up, get on with the business at hand.” Simple.
Except that, if you happen to be the employee who takes the initiative and moves in armed with mop and bucket, odd as it sounds, you may be fired. And if you’re the employer, well…
Federal Regulation 29CFR1910.1030 states that no employee can be placed in a position to be exposed to blood spills without first:
- Receiving bloodborne pathogen (BBP) training.
- Having a written BBP exposure control plan.
- Having been provided personal protective equipment.
- Having been offered Hepatitis B vaccine and exposure evaluation and follow-up.
- Being provided with a method to remove and properly store the bio-hazardous waste in properly marked containers for disposal at an approved site.
Only after these five steps have been met can an employee be required by his or her employer to clean a bio-hazardous/crime scene.
Doesn’t sound so simple now, does it?
Biological hazard remediation, or bio-recovery, is a highly specialized segment of the remediation industry. The cleanup of crime scenes, accidents, suicides and other trauma scenes was once dismissed by many as an afterthought, or not thought of at all. “Don’t worry about it; someone will take care of it,” and so forth. But changes in the way public health concerns are viewed, as well as legislation and regulations concerning the handling and disposal of hazardous waste and materials, have positioned this once-niche specialization as an important part of the remediation industry.
The American Bio-Recovery Association, established in 1996, has been the vanguard of the segment. Founded by Kent Berg, ACBTI, the association’s objective is “to achieve and maintain the highest levels of competence among members in the performance of their profession. To teach, instill and require the highest technical, ethical and educational standards.”
The 10th Annual ABRA Conference in San Diego earlier this year presented a diverse speaker lineup engaging a focused, no-nonsense group of professionals from as far away as Belgium. ABRA President Dale Cillian, owner of Arizona-based Biopro, oversaw a three-day event concentrated on educating and informing attendees of real-world developments in technique and technology, with a big emphasis on business practices.
“City and county contracts. I know a lot of you probably have them, but for those of you that don’t, that’s the way things are going,” Cory Chalmers of Crime Scene Steri Clean in Garden Grove, Calif., said. “All states have local standards, they have best-management practices, they’re getting them in place. Some are a little more proactive than others … but in the big picture, a city’s liability of having their officers or other people clean scenes is too great. So in the future, we’ll be seeing a lot more of that.”
As with all burgeoning industries, the growth of bio-recovery and the demand for its services is bringing with it a whole new set of operating concerns.
“You’re part of a bigger industry, and sometimes I think that’s what you guys forget, because you’re in your own little segment of the industry, and sometimes you don’t see some of the bigger aspects until you get to a crisis point, and it sounds to me like that’s what a lot of you are facing today,” Dr. Michael Pinto of Wonder Makers Environmental said.
“You had no competition for a number of years, and now you have a lot of competition. You were kind of flying under the radar, and now you have a fair amount of media attention,” Pinto said. “You were pretty much able to set your own cost figures, and you’re seeing the results of that, like Cory said. Some people come in and set their cost figures fairly, because they come with a service attitude and they just want to make a fair profit on it. Other people, of course, when they see that opportunity, enter into the market strictly because they think they can make a lot of money. ‘Mold is gold,’ except now it’s ‘blood is gold.’”
An international association, with members in Australia, Canada and Europe as well as the United States, ABRA today finds itself in an interesting situation. Originally focusing on crime and trauma scene cleaning, the scope of bio-recovery technicians has grown to include the decontamination of diseases associated with bird waste, rodent waste, human waste; clandestine drug lab cleanup, communicable disease infection control; pickup and transport of medical waste; the remediation of bioterrorism-related contaminants such as anthrax, and more.
That increased scope leads, of course, to more media exposure and scrutiny, which some ABRA members find a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it brings certain aspects of the business to light, helping to promote standards and push for regulation. On the other hand, shops of “unqualified hacks” begin opening their doors, drawn in by the potential of large-dollar jobs, and the service attitude so important to the industry is quickly replaced by unfeeling “dollar hunters,” lowering the standing of the business and the profile of the industry.
The final day offered a special treat. David LeMaster, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department crime scene investigator and forensic scientist, addressed the issue of “Crime Scene Chemicals” and other aspects of his profession, including the reading of bloodstain patterns (direction, point of origin, etc.), why fingerprints are processed (the skin is unique and permanent through a person’s lifetime), and why he has a strong dislike for paper bags (fingerprints can be smudged or destroyed. “The worst thing you can do with evidence is put it in a paper bag and put it in the evidence vault,” he said.).
What does the future hold for ABRA? The demand for professional biological hazard remediation will only continue to grow, though the segment’s path may be a bit rocky. The professionalism and continued vigilance of ABRA and its members should do much to help it stay on the right track.
ABRA’s 2008 Conference is set to be held in Las Vegas, Sept. 25-27. For more information go to www.americanbiorecovery.com.