COVID-19: Rise in biomedical waste generation poses fresh challenge

Delhi generated 349.06 tons of biomedical waste every day in July, while the figure was 25.19 in May.

Before the pandemic struck, the state, on an average, used to churn out around 15 tons of medical waste a day, but currently PPEs alone contribute to 18 tons of waste. Photo: PTI

The ubiquitous personal protective equipment (PPE) to fight COVID-19 pandemic are posing a fresh hazard with existing biomedical waste disposal infrastructure in West Bengal tripping capacities.

Hospitals in the state generate 18 tons of PPE alone for disposal every day and the load is increasing proportionately to the rise in the number of COVID patients and infrastructure.

A private agency involved in the disposal of the waste in the state said the state’s six existing common biomedical waste treatment disposal facilities (CBWTF) would run out of capacity in another one-and-half months if the present rate of waste generation continued.

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Before the pandemic struck, the state, on an average, used to churn out around 15 tons of medical waste a day. But currently PPEs alone contribute to 18 tons of waste, according to health department sources. “Earlier each hospital bed used to produce 250 grams of medical waste. Now it has increased to 2 to 2.5kg,” said an official of the department.

Other states also reported a similar increase in waste production. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) recently told the Supreme Court, in a report, that Delhi generated 349.06 tons of biomedical waste every day in July. In May, the figure was 25.19 tons.

The EPCA is a Supreme Court mandated body tasked with taking measures to tackle pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR).

It also mentioned a similar spike in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. In May, UP generated 14.5 tons of medical waste a day. In July it shot up to 247.32 tons. Similarly, medical waste generation in Haryana increased from 44.1 tons a day in May to 162.23 tons in July.

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The Medicare Environmental Management Pvt. Ltd, which operates 21 CBWT facilities across the country, including four in West Bengal, has flagged the capacity concern in a communiqué to the Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCBI), a copy of which has also been forwarded to the West Bengal health department.

In its letter, the company suggested that PPE suits, which constitute the bulk of the load, should be delisted from the biomedical waste category or else arrangement should be made to procure reusable PPE suits.

It argued that since hospitals, in any case, sanitize PPE suits before disposal, it could be put in the solid waste category. The company is awaiting a reply from the CPCBI.

An official of the company told The Federal that its four disposal units in West Bengal’s Howrah, Haldia, Kalyani and Durgapur had a total installed capacity to dispose of 27.5 tons of medical wastes a day.

“Already we are getting around 25 tons of waste per day and it is constantly increasing with the government augmenting its COVID-19 treatment infrastructure. At this rate in another one and a half month we will run out of capacity,” the official said.

The company has written to the state government to immediately operationalize its ready unit in Hooghly, which could not be functionalised due to local protest. “We have urged the government to help resolve the issue with the public who are objecting to disposal of medical waste there,” the official said.

In West Bengal, there are 83 dedicated COVID-19 hospitals that are mainly generating additional waste. There are also 106 safe houses to lodge asymptomatic or mild COVID patients. These safe houses are also adding to the waste pressure.

State Health Secretary Narayan Swaroop Nigam said the government was aware of the problem and had assigned an additional secretary-level official to chalk out a probable solution.

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