Medical Wastes and Its Disposal

Health care is vital for our life, health and well being. But the wastes generated thus can be hazardous, toxic and even lethal because of their high potential for disease transmission. Hospital waste or Health Care waste should include any type of material generated in Health Care Establishments including aqueous or other liquid wastes like pathological wastes, radioactive wastes, chemical wastes, infectious wastes, sharps, pharmaceutical wastes, genotoxic waste, laboratory waste etc.

After the notification of the Bio-medical Waste (Handling and Management) Rules, 1998, hospitals are slowly streamlining the process of waste segregation, collection, treatment, and disposal but the foremost question comes what is the Quantity of Medical Waste accrued? Hospital waste is a small fraction of urban municipal waste. Estimates of it can be made from the number of beds in any city and an average amount of waste created per bed.

Generally found hospitals placed all wastes in open dustbins (i.e. open waste containers that are accessible to the general public) and the wastes were left in the open for one or two days. There was no clear guidance to segregate wastes and ensure their proper disposal. Most hospitals collected all wastes together and dump in a common place. Those places were roadside, hospital surroundings, dustbin of city corporation, Corporation’s drum. Waste is placed in dustbin, resold or poured down drain to the main sewer.

Laboratory analysis showed severe contamination of infectious wastes to the environment. Children, adults, and animals all have the potential to come into contact with these wastes which may pose severe health risks to them. There was no safety measure observed in dealing with waste disposal or laboratory analysis of infectious or hazardous diseases. The chemicals used for the staining and preservation of slides and for the sterilization and cleaning of equipment and surroundings are potentially harmful to the laboratory technician and the environment.

There is always a risk of injuries related to medical waste handling and carrying by waste hauler or cleaner. There are also various impacts associated with the improper disposal of medical waste in environment. Pollutants from medical waste (e.g. heavy metals) are persistent in the environment which creates inconvenience in the surroundings. Accumulation of toxic chemicals within soil has proximity to affect agricultural fields, humans, soil organisms, wildlife, and cattle. Contaminated ground water and decrease in water quality for using various domestic and drinking purposes causes harm too. Medical disposal also accumulate in bio organism’s fat tissues, and is biomagnified through the food chain. This disposal might have chances to reducing the rate of decomposition, and generally lowering the soil fertility because of repeated and indiscriminate application of chemicals over a long period of time. Wind blown dusts from indiscriminate dumping also have the potential to carry hazardous particulates. There is always danger associated with domestic animals which being allowed to graze in open dumps adds the risk of re introducing pathogenic micro-organisms into the food chain.

Public nuisance e.g. odors, scenic view, block the walkway, aesthetics, etc.and makes the environment dangerous for the other people. Mother and child may cause infection due to improper sterilization of instruments used in labour room. Combination of both degradable and non-degradable waste increase the rate of habitat destruction due to the increasing number of sites necessary for disposal of wastes this increasing number of sites would degrade the habitat. Used plastic-bags, plastic containers may contaminate the soil and also reduces the chance for water percolation into the soil during precipitation, if not properly destroyed. Open air burning does not guarantee proper incineration, and releases toxic fumes (dioxin) into the atmosphere from the burning of plastics.

There are no policies which regulate the hospital wastes and takes a turn towards sustainable development but the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 1998 Act, takes care of this to a greater extent and suggested rules and regulations for its proper disposal which then helps in protecting the environment. When it comes to sustainable development, then disposal of the wastes is not the only concern, it circumferences many other things such as, proper handling, storage, disposal etc. Besides developing new methods for recycling and reusing of the wastes, the immediate focus should be on making the hospital authorities aware of the need of the Bio-medical Waste Management and the risk prevailing with it, they should also be given an insight of the Act and the legal consequences attach to it.

Kriti Das

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