Half the bio-medical waste generated in the country's hospitals is just dumped with municipal garbage, without any special treatment, according to a recent study evaluating the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). In fact, almost 15,000 hospitals have been served show cause notices as defaulters for not following waste management rules.
The indictment comes even as questions are being raised over whether the radioactive Cobalt-60 isotope — which has left six people from the Mayapuri scrapyard in New Delhi battling for their lives — originally came from hospital waste.
The CPCB evaluation report, submitted in February, was carried out by the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, and commissioned by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The report says: “Presently 50 to 55 per cent of bio-medical wastes is collected, segregated and treated as per the Bio-medical Waste Management Rules. Rest are dumped with municipal solid wastes.”
The proportions of the problem are huge. Each day, more than 4.2 lakh kg of biomedical waste is generated in the country, but there are only 157 facilities qualified to treat the waste.
As a result, only 2.4 lakh kg is actually treated. In institutional terms, an inventory showed that of the 84,809 hospitals and healthcare facilities in India, only 48,183 are using either common biomedical waste treatment facilities or have engaged private agencies to treat their waste.
The report says 14,959 defaulting hospitals have been issued show cause notices. The Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, mandates hospitals to ensure that such waste is handled without any adverse effect to human health and the environment.
By 2002, all healthcare institutions were expected to have incinerators, autoclaves or microwaves to destroy infectious waste, but the report says there are only 391 incinerators, 2,562 autoclaves and 458 m icrowaves in operation.
The Rules also make it clear that bio-medical wastes should not be mixed with any other type of waste and should be segregated at the point of generation.
The report advised that the number of Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facilities be increased manifold, preferably being set up through public-private partnerships.
It also recommended that new technologies be promoted to destroy toxic bio-medical waste. For example, the Department of Science and Technology's plasma technology project to incinerate waste should be expedited, it said.