The incinerated belongings of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan were bound for a Louisiana hazardous waste landfill — until the state's attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, raised concerns that the ashes could pose a danger to Louisiana's population.
Caldwell's office said in an e-mailed statement Monday afternoon that a Louisiana judge granted its request for a temporary restraining order blocking the transportation of Duncan's belongings into the state from Texas, where they were destroyed.
Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines saying that "Ebola-associated waste that has been appropriately inactivated or incinerated is no longer infectious," Caldwell said in an earlier statement that "there are too many unknowns at this point" for the ashes of Duncan's belongings to cross into his state.
"Even the CDC and our health-care workers seem uncertain as to the effectiveness of purported protocols in dealing with Ebola," Caldwell said. "It is absurd to transport potentially hazardous Ebola waste across state lines."
In its petition for the temporary restraining order, the attorney general's office referenced a letter from the CDC indicating that the agency had not done any post-incineration testing on the ashes of Duncan's belongings.
Caldwell's office wrote in its petition that "Louisiana has no opportunity to independently verify and confirm the safety of the medical waste," adding: "Given the significant public health interest involved in this matter and clear authority of the State to regulate the transport and disposal of medical waste within its sovereign borders, the state meets the qualifications to petition this Honorable Court for injunctive relief."
The order from Louisiana's 19th District Court Judge Bob Downing bars the Texas company that destroyed Duncan's belongings from transporting the ashes into the state. It also prohibits the Louisiana facility slated to accept them from doing so.
The order requires the companies involved to provide more information about the handling of the waste, including "a list of Texas licenses and permitted hazardous waste landfills authorized to dispose of the materials ... to which the materials can be transported and contained in the state of Texas where the Ebola contaminated materials originated."
The order remains in place until Oct. 22, when Downing will hear the case for a preliminary injunction.
Over the weekend, Chemical Waste Management Inc. said that it would accept incinerated belongings associated with Duncan at its hazardous waste facility in Carlyss, La., about halfway between Houston and Baton Rouge.
But in a statement in advance of the judge's order, the company said it would no longer dispose of the belongings, at least while state officials still had questions about the safety of the ashes. "We do not want to make an already complicated situation more complicated," reads the statement quoted by the the Associated Press.
The company said it informed the Texas facility responsible for destroying the belongings that "it has no current plans to accept ash resulting from the process to incinerate some decontaminated belongings from an Ebola patient's apartment located in Dallas, TX."
The statement continued: "We are in contact and working with all the appropriate Louisiana state officials and certainly want these officials to agree that any acceptance of this ash at our Lake Charles facility is safe prior to its acceptance."
The items were destroyed at a Veolia North America-owned facility in Port Arthur, Tex., according to NBC affiliate KPLC. Duncan's belongings, which included bed linens and carpet potentially contaminated with Ebola after he became symptomatic in Dallas, were burned in a high-temperature incinerator at 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to destroy the virus, Veolia told the Associated Press.
Veolia processed about 140 barrels filled with belongings from the apartment Duncan was in when he fell ill. A company spokesperson told the AP that his incinerated belongings would be held and analyzed for two days in Texas to make sure no contaminants remain.
After Duncan's death Oct. 8, health officials said his body would be cremated.
David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of Health Services, said Monday that the destroyed remains and belongings were safe.
"We feel very comfortable with the procedure, with incineration," Lakey said during a briefing with reporters. "We believe that the ash would pose absolutely no risk."
Mark Berman contributed reporting.
[This post has been updated multiple times.]
The math is clear. Ebola is winning