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Untreated hospital waste in Mumbai

By Mahesh Vijapurkar

MUMBAI DEC. 17. Had a rag-picker not raised a hue and cry after stumbling upon some amputated limbs and body parts at a dumping ground here on Tuesday, few would have been wiser to the fact that some six tonnes of untreated hospital waste floats around the city, posing a threat to public health.

According to officially stated norms, only up to 15 per cent of such hospital wastes — bio-medical waste which include amputated limbs, umbilical cords, blood and pus-soaked cotton and gauze and discarded bandages — require to be incinerated. The rest is to be autoclaved before being sent to the dumping yard.

Sometimes, wastes requiring incineration can be higher in proportion. In July, for instance, it was found that of the 90.17 tonnes of hospital waste received at the centralised incinerator-cum-autoclave facility, 37.23 tonnes (about 41 per cent) needed to be incinerated.

Till October 21, only a third of all estimated hospital waste was being incinerated at the centralised facility. But the facility was shut down for improvements since local residents feared health hazards from the smoke that came from its stacks. It will be weeks before the plant becomes operational again. But even after that it would be inadequate to meet the city's needs.

Not everything was right when the plant was working: it was under-utilised as just four trucks of the civic body were transporting waste to the facility while at least 10 trucks were needed for this purpose. The plant received only 2.6 tonnes of waste though it could process four tonnes a day.

About six tonnes of waste is produced everyday by hospitals in Mumbai. "Some 500 hospitals are registered with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and are authorised to generate biomedical wastes," a source said. There is no full census of this sector.

Untreated wastes, sources in the pollution control board concede, "obviously get mixed with the municipal garbage, exposing the garbage handlers and the people to infections."

There are several deficiencies in the two-year-old centralised plant concept. First, it was located in the Group of Tuberculosis Hospital in Sewri, a thickly-populated part of the city. Secondly, no thought was given to a fallback arrangement in the event of failure. "We went wrong in both location and the number of facilities we need," a government official admitted.

Now, the Mumbai Municipal Corporation has been told to not only make operational the facility quickly but also open more such plants.

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