FOR THE RECORD: This story gave the wrong year in which an inoperative $800,000 “tissue digester” was installed at the New Mexico Tri-Services Laboratory. The digester was installed in 2010, according to a spokesman for the state General Services Department.
An $800,000 “tissue digester” the state Department of Agriculture planned to use to dispose of disease-infected animal carcasses has never worked since it was installed in 2011, and two legislators are asking for $2.6 million to put in a new one.
The digester was supposed to handle about 4,000 pounds of tissue during an eight- to 12-hour cycle. Instead, it sits unused in the Tri-Services Laboratory at 1101 Camino de Salud NE, which also houses the state Health Department’s Scientific Laboratory Division and the state Office of the Medical Investigator.
Katie Goetz, spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said tissue digesters work like a large pressure cooker that uses heat, pressure and chemicals to reduce animal tissue to a sterile slurry. One-third of the digester is on one floor, and two-thirds of it are on the floor below.
The digester destroys infectious agents responsible for diseases such as mad cow disease,chronic wasting disease, anthrax and plaague, she said.
It’s unclear where the slurry would go once the process is finished.
“The disposal method is yet to be determined, as that would depend on the particular setup of the tissue digester that is selected through the bidding process,” Goetz said. “However, the final product from the digester will be in compliance with federal, state and local requirements to ensure the safest and most efficient disposal.”
The lab, the state’s sole public health, environmental and drug laboratory, conducts tests for infectious human and animal diseases. It also tests for hazardous materials and pollutants in water, air and milk, and analyzes alcohol and drugs samples in DWI criminal cases and for autopsy cases. The lab conducts more than 350,000 tests on nearly 80,000 samples per year, according to the lab’s website.
In January 2008, the state contracted with Florida-based Hydrol-Pro Technologies Inc. to plan, design and install the digester, said Tim Korte, spokesman for the state General Services Department. But Hydrol-Pro, which was not bonded, filed for bankruptcy before the installation was finished,
The state then hired Illinois-based Progressive Recovery Inc. to complete the installation, but once the digester was installed, the company was unable to make it work, Korte said. That contract cost the state $565,000, Korte said.
Goetz said the digester is needed because neither the city of Albuquerque nor Bernalillo County will approve an incinerator, especially one in such close proximity to medical facilities.
The digester also eliminates the need to transport diseased carcasses, and it does not produce smoke like an incinerator.
State lawmakers are now being asked for money to remove the nonworking digester and to buy and install a new one.
Companion bills by two Democrats — House Bill 211 sponsored by Rep. Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe and Senate Bill 60 by Sen. Carlos Cisneros of Questa — seek $2.6 million. That includes $1.6 million for a new tissue digester, and $1 million to remove the one that never worked.
In the interim, the Veterinary Diagnostic Services does what is has always done with infected carcasses Goetz said: It ships small animal carcasses to two crematoriums in Albuquerque for disposal, and it ships larger animals to the Department of Game & Fish incinerator in Santa Fe.
Any parts of the nonworking digester that might be usable in the new digester without voiding the new digester’s warranty will be salvaged, Goetz said. The remaining parts, which are largely stainless steel, will be sold as scrap.
Collectively, the three agencies housed at the Tri-Services Laboratory are seeking nearly $5.8 million from the Legislature. Needs range from $500,000 to improve drainage on the floors of the Veterinary Diagnostic Services lab to $25,000 to replace vacuum pumps.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal