HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has learned that the University of Hawaii Medical School disposes of hundreds of pounds of dead research mice each year into the city's sewers -- after cooking them and breaking them down into a soupy liquid.
But UH officials and the city say the dumping poses no health risk to the public and that any mice that are infected with diseases are first frozen, then sterilized, then pressure cooked before they sent into the sewers.
"We believe that it is safe, yes," said UH spokeswoman Talia Ogliore.
"Other universities handle this in a similar way."
But some environmental activists believe there are still plenty of hazards and that the lab waste should be dumped in a landfill instead.
"It should never be introduced into the sewer lines. It should never, never, ever. It should be disposed of properly," said Carroll Cox, president of EnviroWatch Inc.
"It's not human waste now. You have pathogens, viruses and whatever."
The mice are used in research on cancer and other diseases and some of them are infected with the West Nile virus, malaria and dengue fever.
Sources say the school has not conducted tests on the treated remains that are first stored in a sampling pit before they are dumped into the sewer.
Meanwhile, the school's latest permit to discharge material into the sewers makes no mention of the lab rat remains, saying only that it releases dishwashing water and biological research into the sewers.
The city spokesman Markus Owens says its aware that the treated remains of mice are among the items discharged into the sewers. He added that one city wastewater manager compared the disposal process to "dropping food down the sink."
But Cox said that most businesses are required by the city to provide more details when they discharge waste into the sewers, especially when those businesses work with potentially hazardous wastes.
"It should have listed specific items and be more detailed so the public could know," he said.
The remains of the lab rats are supposed be rendered neutral by a washing machine-sized cooker known as a tissue digester. The animal tissue is first treated with chemicals and placed in the tissue generator for six hours at 250 degrees, turning the waste into liquid form before it is dumped into the sewers.
The university says it takes the additional step of freezing and steam sterilizing mice infected with diseases before placing them in the tissue
But the tissue generator machine has been broken since November, forcing the school to stockpile about 800 pounds of frozen mice carcasses on the UH Manoa campus.