Household biomedical waste adds to hazards at landfill sites

Household biomedical waste adds to hazards at landfill sites

Tons of extremely hazardous biomedical waste (BMW) generated by households goes directly to landfills in Bengaluru. There are no clear rules mandating the segregation of BMW from either wet or dry waste, and the civic agencies tasked with regulating this have no real data.

Infected adult diapers, used syringes and insulin needles from houses with senior citizens and patients are being dumped directly into municipal waste bins and trucks. With no real monitoring, roadside clinics and pharmacies are also dumping expired drugs into that waste pile.

Exposed to this risk are thousands of sanitation workers handling waste, often found working without any protection.

To arrest this dangerous slide into public health chaos, the Environment Support Group (ESG) has sought a proper audit of all biomedical facilities at the BBMP ward level. It wants citizen groups in ward committees empowered to inspect and collate data for quick remedial action.

A comptroller and auditor general (CAG) report had pulled up the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) for not doing enough to punish healthcare establishments violating BMW rules.

The ESG has now suggested that ward committees could monitor whether the biomedical units are periodically inspected by the KSPCB and BBMP zonal commissioners.

But the dumping of expired drugs in municipal waste bins takes the issue to an entirely different level. Each of the city's estimated 11,000 pharmacies generates about a kilogram of such drugs every month.

"The suppliers take back only certain drugs. Injectables, for instance, are not touched. A lot of generic drug manufacturers,  too, don't have a take-back policy," explains Shashi Mohan, of Sattva Health.

Two years ago, Sattva had devised an innovative way to collect expired drugs from pharmacies and recycle a part of them using non-burning technologies.

"Every medical shop struggles to dispose of their expired drugs. We collect these drugs once every three months and take them to our lab in Ramapura for maximum recovery. We have so far tied up with over 3,500 pharmacies in the city," he says.

But a top official from one of the city's two Common BMW Treatment Facilities claims that almost 98% of the healthcare facilities get their waste to the plants. This could not be established by a reality check by DH.

However, there was enough evidence to support his second remark: That 99% of biomedical waste generated by households are dumped with municipal waste.

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