Mound of biomedical waste creating an environmental crisis
On “World Environment Day” 2020, HERALD enlightened readers with the various signs of tangible improvements in nature that the 70-day nationwide COVID-19 lockdown has brought. A year later, we’re sorry to say how COVID-19 has now left its impact on nature, too. With the second wave of COVID-19 wreaking havoc across the country – Goa being no exception, the coastal state has an unlikely threat close at hand – the growing pile of biomedical waste. SHWETA KAMAT meets with doctors, medical experts and environmentalists to outline how the unsafe disposal of medical waste may create an environmental crisis in the state in the near future
The amount of biomedical waste generated per day in Goa has increased by 50%. From 2300 kg per day until December 2020 to 3500 kg per day until the end of May. Biomedical waste related to COVID-19 which was around 100 kg per day until February, reached more than 1050 kg per day in May.
Even though hospitals and COVID-19 care centers are bound by protocols, established by pollution authorities, for sorting waste, the unscientific disposal of biomedical COVID-19 remains worrisome. With no common treatment facilities, most of it goes untreated, with hospitals and local agencies burning them in open spaces or dumping them in forest areas or dumping them in rivers/water bodies .
COVID-19 biomedical waste could include PPE kits, masks, shoe covers, gloves, human tissue, items contaminated with blood, bodily fluids like bandages, casts, cotton swabs , bedding contaminated with blood or body fluids, blood bags, needles, syringes, etc.
“Without an appropriate and comprehensive biomedical waste management system, including a treatment facility, there is a risk of biomedical waste dumping, open burning and disposal. with municipal waste, which poses a serious health concern,” the Goa Waste Management Corporation (GWMC) said in its report released in February this year.
A research article published in the scientific journal Heliyon has warned that greater generation of biomedical waste is inevitable during the pandemic outbreak, and its safe handling, treatment and disposal must be prioritized to minimize contamination. soil, water and air.
Under the 2016 Biomedical Waste Management Rules, all hospitals are required to have a mechanism in place to effectively dispose of waste, either directly or through joint biomedical waste treatment and disposal facilities.
GWMC Chief Executive Levinson Martins said the Company is unable to collect, handle and treat biomedical waste in the absence of common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBMWTF). “The proposed facility at Kundaim has yet to be made operational. We expect the same to begin by the end of the month. But until then, it is up to the respective hospitals to manage the waste,” he said.
Currently, part of the biomedical waste generated is disposed of by healthcare establishments by adopting the deep burial method. Recyclable treated waste is disposed of after pre-treatment by recyclers, some is recovered by local municipalities and much of it is incinerated at Goa Medical College (GMC) facilities. However, the incinerator with a capacity of only 100 kg per day is struggling to process more than 1000 kg of waste from various hospitals on its site.
Tons of biomedical waste are dumped at the premises of the Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMC). According to reports, waste from the entire hospital, amounting to 1,000 kg per day, is dumped at the site for treatment. However, in many cases, the waste is set on fire in an effort to dispose of it, thus causing severe air pollution in the surrounding area.
A doctor from GMC explains “to control the spread of the virus, the face mask is used as the main personal protective equipment (PPE) and therefore its production and use continue to increase. Moreover, most of these masks contain plastic or other plastic derivatives, thus generating tons of plastic waste in the environment in a short time. Their unscientific disposal leads to serious health risks.
According to the doctor, biomedical waste is increasing every day after the second wave of COVID. “The increase in the number of beds, as well as the increase in the occupancy rate, have also contributed to the increase in the number of biomedical waste,” the doctor said, adding that the occupancy level increased from 50 at 60% before COVID. close to 90-100 percent now.
The total number of beds, before COVID-19, which was around 5,000, has increased in several ways, including the 400 beds, each two new facilities – South Goa District Hospital and Super Specialty block in Bambolim .
A senior environment department official said there is an immediate threat of unsafe disposal of healthcare waste that could create an environmental crisis. “Unsafe disposal of medical waste not only pollutes the environment, but also poses a risk of infectious diseases,” an official said, adding “there have been complaints about the dumping of biomedical waste in some bodies of water or burning in open spaces…it’s worrying…the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be leaving behind a permanent environmental catastrophe, if not addressed now”.
Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) Member Secretary Shamila Monteiro has confirmed that complaints have been received regarding the dumping of COVID waste in the Nessai Industrial Zone and also in Chicalim Nullah. “Dumping or disposal of biomedical waste in the open or in bodies of water leads to pollution and contamination, which is also dangerous to marine life,” she said.