U vet lab prepares to halt use of dump for animal remains

Jason Juno

As the University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory waits to use its animal tissue digester, it continues to send some of its animal remains to a metro-area landfill.

Final testing must be done on the tissue digester to make sure it works correctly. Once usage begins, it will eliminate any need to dispose of animals in a landfill, scientist Ron Joki said.

The digester isn’t running yet because of construction delays, and Joki said he is not sure when the University will begin using it.

The digester liquefies animal remains, which is a better system for eliminating all known pathogenic agents, he said.

After the animal tissue becomes liquid, it is made less caustic and less strong. Then, it can be disposed in the Ramsey County sewer system, he said.

The University currently sends the animal waste to the Pine Bend Sanitary Landfill in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., said Dana Donatucci, facilities support supervisor for University Facilities Management.

The remains of large research animals, such as horses, are sent to the landfill, he said. Thousands of pounds of remains are hauled there each week by truck.

Other small animals, such as dogs and cats, do not go to the landfill, he said.

Any animal that did not die naturally is not sent to the landfill, Donatucci said.

Some of the animals go to an off-campus site, where diseases are destroyed with pressurized steam, Joki said.

The University used to send some animals to a facility that made pet food, but it became an issue of feeding “Fido to Fido,” Donatucci said. There is a risk for disease when feeding animals to members of the same species, he said.

The current methods of disposal are safe, such as using the landfill and pressurized steam, Joki said.

“The danger is very low. It’s a low, low risk,” he said. “But we would feel more comfortable (with the new machine). We want to reduce the risk to as close to zero as possible.”

The landfill is located in an area off U.S. Highway 52, with an oil refinery to the south and houses along roadways to the west and north.

It is a landfill used mainly for metro residents’ garbage, said Mike Rafferty, information officer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Potential problems from taking animal waste and putting it in the landfill include rodents and pockets of air, which reduce landfill space, he said.

Problems could come up in a “worst-case scenario” in which disease, such as chronic wasting disease, could be found, but landfills are required to have a plan to deal with that, Rafferty said. Chronic wasting disease has not yet been found in

Minnesota deer, he said, but two elk from a farm have had the disease.

When the landfill accepts animal remains, everything must be documented, said Michael Tocko, a landfill sales employee. People must fill out an application, he said. The landfill will take animal waste depending on how and where it was generated, he said.

There is no limit to how much animal waste they will take, he said, nor is there a preferred limitation on the amount of animal waste they take in.

The landfill – the largest in the Midwest – has had contamination problems since the mid-1980s, because it is “unlined,” Rafferty said. Newer landfills are built with a liner that prevents contaminants from seeping into ground or surface water.

Rachel Plan, an employee and neighbor to the landfill, said she has lived across the street from the landfill her entire life but does not think about it. She said there has not been anything negative about the landfill being close to her home.