Biomedical waste pile-ups: small clinics, big contributors

Norms and laws are in place. But, lack of compliance by hospitals and private clinics is causing a pileup of toxic biomedical waste in dumping yards.

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:32 pm IST

Published - August 08, 2013 08:11 am IST - CHENNAI:

Bottlenecks galore: Hospitals and institutes in the city do not handle all the the biomedical waste they generate in the right manner, thereby hindering the process of their safe disposal. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Bottlenecks galore: Hospitals and institutes in the city do not handle all the the biomedical waste they generate in the right manner, thereby hindering the process of their safe disposal. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

City hospitals do not conscientiously follow the biomedical waste disposal norms such as segregation and destruction of infective items. An average of 9 -10 tonnes of waste is collected daily, but companies authorised to dispose them estimate that a similar amount goes to the landfill, which is against rules.

Officials and hospital employees admit that only 60 per cent of the generated waste is disposed of using the correct procedures. Chennai Corporation employees who pick up garbage from government hospitals say they sometimes find blood bags, tubes and IV lines with needles and broken glass.

Though they have not found body parts in the hospital bins, they would rather that medical waste is properly disposed of.

Two companies — GJ Multiclave and Ramky — authorised to pick up biomedical waste, together cover 1,010 hospitals and clinics in the city and the nearby districts of Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Villupuram and Cuddalore. Sources at GJ Multiclave said while they collect waste from 325 clinics, it is estimated that around 2,000 clinics do not comply with biomedical waste management rules. Ramky has a similar story to narrate. They add, at present, they receive more items for incineration than for autoclaving, the process used to sterlise waste that can be reused. Ideally, it should be the reverse.

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Generally, hospitals that have an authorisation from the State Pollution Control Board can enter into an agreement with the companies for disposal of biomedical waste. The companies charge Rs. 5 per bed for waste collection. “A hospital pays according to the number of beds it has. That said, clinics without beds do not come under our purview,” said S. Nandakumar, project head of Ramky.

There are different methods for disposing of the various items used in hospitals. Disposable blood- and secretion-stained products must be immersed in sodium hypochlorite solution for 30 minutes, before packing them in the appropriate colour bags for disposal. Even the site where the bags are stored must be disinfected using the solution, while those who handle the waste must be vaccinated for protection from infections.

Though there has been much improvement in the last five years, much more must be done, Mr. Nandakumar said. In a teaching medical facility, the microbiology department is in charge of the training programmes for healthcare professionals. “It is necessary to hold regular training programmes for all staff, including the sanitary workers. Otherwise, the system will fail,” said a matron in a government hospital.

According to these companies handling biomedical waste, hospitals and clinics which do not have full occupancy ignore proper disposal rules.

“It should be made mandatory for every hospital and clinic, even those without beds, to dispose biomedical waste by the prescribed method. Otherwise waste would be considered an expense,” said a source at GJ Multiclave.

In a government hospital, nurses said they do not stringently follow the rule for breaking the needle from the syringe as they are afraid of the smoke the machine produces. “Ideally, we should break the needle and shred the hub but we don’t do that as we fear it may damage the machine,” the nurse said.

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