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Hospital incinerators the biggest polluters

By Bindu Shajan Perappadan

NEW DELHI, APRIL 20. Hospital incinerators are the biggest polluters in the Capital, states a report complied by Toxic Links, which also points out that the government hospitals, despite the many rules and guidelines, have turned blind eye to the harmful effect of the incinerators.

The study, titled "Incinerators in Delhi -- State the Biggest Polluter", points out that it is shocking to note that government hospitals continue to threaten the health of the city's population by releasing carcinogens through the burning of medical waste.

Burning of waste of any kind causes the emission of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) like dioxins and furans. Dioxin exposure is linked to a variety of health problems such as impairment of the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the reproductive system. Medical Waste incineration, too, has been linked with the release of these deadly carcinogens.

The report further adds that the Central Pollution Control Board recently issued guidelines on Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment Facility and on the Design and Construction of Bio-Medical Waste Incinerators, which discourage on-site incinerators by allowing new incinerators only in certain inevitable situations. The guidelines also limit the category of waste that requires incineration as the treatment option.

"But all this seems to be happening only on paper. In practice, hospitals have not been notified (through an amendment in the rules) about the limits of incineration and they continue to incinerate all categories of waste proposed in the rules. State Pollution Control Boards continue giving statements instigating hospitals to go in for on-site incineration and some State Governments are also looking for installing unapproved technologies like Plasma Pyrolysis," said Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Link.

World wide, the incineration industry has proven itself to be phenomenally unpopular. Third world countries, such as India, are however, witnessing a spread of this `dirty' technology. Environmental groups across the globe are resisting waste incineration, and are insisting that their governments put a stop to the deadly practice of burning waste.

Delhi had around 59 medical waste incinerators in 2000, but because of the complexities involved in meeting the emission standards most private hospitals decided to shut them down.

Private hospitals have acknowledged the economic and environment ramifications of these machines, but government hospitals have turned blind eye to this menace.

Even today, most incinerators in Delhi do not have pollution control equipments. They either have a cyclone or venturi scrubber. "Though the recent emission data of the DPCC survey has not been released, from their 2002 survey it remains evident that the existing incinerators in Delhi could not meet emission norms even with venturi scrubbers and thus continue to release a host of pollutants in the air. There is an attempt to push for open burning to manage millions of syringes generated during immunization programs in the country, in stark violation of the existing rules and the guidelines," pointed out Mr. Agarwal.

In a record manifestation of global opposition to waste incineration, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), comprising of 227 groups and individuals from 61 countries released its report "Resources Up In Flames: The Economic Pitfall of Incineration versus a Zero Waste Approach in the Global South", which describes a variety of programs that recover, reuse, recycle, or compost discarded material. The report compiles various models of incineration alternatives and exemplifies the fact that incineration is just not an environmental but also an economic disaster.

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