At 20 years old, incinerators at PGI, GMSH-16 can stop working anytime | punjab$chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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At 20 years old, incinerators at PGI, GMSH-16 can stop working anytime

With shelf life of 15 years, these incinerators are tasked with burning 1,680kg of highly infectious biomedical waste daily from city-based health centres

punjab Updated: Oct 02, 2017 15:31 IST
Tanbir Dhaliwal
Over 1.4 lakh kg of biomedical waste is generated at PGIMER on a monthly basis.
Over 1.4 lakh kg of biomedical waste is generated at PGIMER on a monthly basis.(HT Photo)

Have you ever wondered what happens to syringes or blood-soaked cotton swabs? Where do amputated human parts, used blood bags and other infectious biomedical waste go? 

Daily, over 1,680kg biomedical waste that goes into incinerators is produced in the city’s health centres; all of it is destroyed in the two incinerators installed at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) and Government Multi-Specialty Hospital (GMSH), Sector 16. 

However, over two decades old, these incinerators are way past their shelf lives and can stop functioning any time. Two were installed at PGIMER in 1997; one at GMSH-16 in 2000. They have a shelf life of 10 years. At PGIMER, only one works at a time along with the incinerator at GMSH-16. But those installed at Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Sector 32, and Manimajra civil hospital do not work anymore.

How waster is segregated

The waste that goes into these incinerators is the most infectious and harmful among all the four categories of biomedical waste. It includes human and animal remains such as amputated parts, foetuses, items contaminated with blood or bodily fluids and chemical waste. 

Over 1.4 lakh kg of biomedical waste is generated at PGIMER on a monthly basis. Of this, nearly 23,032kg is packed into yellow bags. The waste is segregated at the source into four categories.

Highly infectious waste such as human flesh and other blood-soaked items go into yellow bags. Glass and sharp-edged material is put into blue bags. Plastic material such as vials, glucose bottles and blood packets are packed into red bags and non- infectious waste such as paper and dust is collected in black bags.

The waste packed into yellow bags is so dangerous that even workers are not allowed to open them and these are thrown directly into incinerators and burnt to ashes.

“No one is stopping PGIMER from upgrading the incinerators. They should go ahead. Who is stopping them? If they want to dismantle the old one and install a new one at the same place, where is the problem? I think they are just making excuses.”

Incinerators running on ‘jugaad’

“In 1996, PGIMER got consent from CPCC (Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee) to install two incinerators for 15 years. These two were purchased in 1997. Their shelf life was only 10 years which ended in 2007,” said a PGIMER official. 

The official added, “We have spent lakhs on its maintenance in the past 10 years, but we cannot run them like this any longer as technical glitches come up too often.”

The official further said they were running the incinerators on a ‘jugaad’. With time, even their capacity has come down from 150kg of waste per hour to 100kg. 

“The biggest drawback is that they are manually operated; this means workers throw nearly 150 yellow bags into the furnace that burn at 1,000 degrees Celsius. Every 15 minutes, they have to rotate the waste inside the incinerator which is risky,” said the official. 

One incinerator functions seven to eight hours daily and burns nearly 800kg of waste. The ash is also collected manually by workers and put into black bags that are transported to Nimbua village in Dera Bassi. 

PGI denied permission to upgrade

Another PGIMER official said they were trying to upgrade the incinerators since 2012, but were being denied environmental clearance. 

“In 2016, we got a letter from CPCC denying permission. They mentioned that there can be only one common biomedical waste plant in the 75-km radius of the city,” said the official. 

The official added that with environmental clearance, they could have upgraded the incinerators. “They will be fully automated, will have ozone gas system that is attached to a chimney that converts black smoke into white and will have affluent treatment plant and other latest technology,” said the official. 

The official added that the update was must for the safety of workers and to make them environment friendly. “The machines are so old, that no matter how much we fix them, they can stop functioning anytime,” said the official.