Brazil’s federal public prosecutor has asked Pernambuco state’s Federal Police (PF) to open an inquiry concerning the import of tons of medical waste from the US by a Brazilian textile company. Blood-stained sheets and coats were being sold in two stores in Santa Cruz do Capibaribe. Some hotels also seem to be using discarded hospital sheets in their rooms.
Pernambuco also intends to contact the American State Department to notify about the case and to demand an explanation of the US on letting this contaminated product leave the United States.
Federal authorities vow to intensify their investigation in Caruaru, Toritama and Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, cities that are home to the Agreste of Pernambuco’s clothing trade hub. They are trying to discover how many companies may have purchased fabric that was previously used in American hospitals.
The police wish to find out who is responsible for unloading of containers with medical waste, which constitute crime against the environment. The authors will be also charged with smuggling and the use of false documentation.
“We’re trying to track down who is buying the material from the importer. We want to know if this product was also distributed to other companies in Brazil,” said the superintendent of the PF in Pernambuco, Marlon Jefferson.
The owner of the company that imported the container seized in the port of Suape is being sought by police and hasn’t been located as of now. He might be sentenced to up to four years in prison for illegal trafficking.
On October 11, the IRS seized in Suape, two containers carrying 46 tons of dirty sheets and other material from a South Carolina hospital. The importing company sells through the Internet to Brazil and overseas flaps for pants’ pocket lining.
Pernambuco’s governor Eduardo Campos has blamed the US for lack of oversight. “The merchandise left the country, but should not have left. We have increased our surveillance at Suape. But even with checking being done at random, we were able to find a container with this type of material and we interrupted the flow of goods.”
“This incident must also be reported in the United States and we are going to ask them to investigate how the export of this material happened,” he added.
The governor’s chief of staff, Tadeu Alencar, visited the US Consulate in Recife, capital of Pernambuco, where he was received by consul Usha Pitts. In a press release, the consulate informed it had reported the case to the US agencies responsible for importing and exporting goods in the United States, as well as agencies responsible for environmental control.
“The United States and Brazil have a strong and mature business relationship that involves more than 60 billion dollars a year. We are committed to facilitate legal trade, strengthening the US trade laws that protect the economy, health and safety of people around the world through solid partnerships with foreign governments. We are treating this matter very seriously and checking if any American law has been violated,” added the official statement.
According to Jaime Brito, general manager of Apevisa (Pernambuco’s Health Surveillance Agency) the risk of contamination by the public is small. “We spoke to infectious disease experts and they all said that microorganisms do not survive the physical and chemical processes of the nine procedures adopted by the company, which include washing and drying. The biggest concern is for those who first handled the material, possibly without proper protection.”
The sheets discarded by American hospitals were also found in hotels and hostels in Timbaúba, 100 miles from Santa Cruz do Capibaribe. At the Stylus hotel, some sheets were spread on the clothesline while the beds were covered with sheets with the words “health services.”
The hotel owner, Marcondes Mendes, told reporters he never suspected he was using discarded hospital sheets. “We’ve been using these sheets for almost two years. I bought them in stores here in Timbaúba. I would look at the size of the sheet and buy, everything new, I washed, and began to use. They had better prices, 3 reais (US$ 1.70) less for the standard sheet. I didn’t think anything about the wording, I had no idea what they meant.”