50% of Covid-19 waste disposed of unsafely, says Mumbai civic body

Apr 08, 2020 12:34 AM IST

Almost half the Covid-19 waste generated from quarantine centres, containment zones and self-isolation centres in the city is disposed of unsafely, according to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) solid waste management department.

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According to the MPCB data, Mumbai has been generating an average of 1,500 kg of Covid-19 waste per day, which is the highest in Maharashtra as most cases are from the city. From March 22 to 31, the amount of waste ranged between 500kg and 600kg a day. On April 1, the amount of waste doubled to 1,342kg and 1,370kg on April 2. A sharp spike in Covid-19 waste collection was seen on April 3 and 4 to 2,022.1kg and 2,328kg. On April 5 again, the quantum dropped to 1,351.15 kg. “The fluctuation shows improper segregation,” said Amar Supate, principal scientific officer and head of bio-medical waste management, MPCB. “The BMC needs to make announcements and issue warnings at quarantine zones and containment centres to make citizens aware on the potential risk for others, especially the SWM staff. Our regional officers are looking into this.”

The BMC’s department has now appealed to citizens to follow instructions from the urban development department and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) in order to safeguard others from contracting the infection through improper segregation “The number of quarantined centres and containment zones is increasing on a daily basis. During waste collection by our on-field staff, only one bag is being received or in some cases, waste (including Covid-19 waste) is being dumped directly outside the containment zone. Our staff is segregating this waste from source areas. At the moment, segregation of Covid-19 waste is inadequate and just about 50% of the quantity generated daily,” said Ashok Khaire, deputy municipal commissioner, SWM. “This is a serious issue as it increases the risk of transmission. Citizens are being educated on the threat posed by this.”

At two major containment areas in Worli (Worli-Koliwada and Jijamata Nagar), the worst-hit areas in Mumbai, there was no waste segregation at all, said another SWM official, requesting anonymity. “Our staff is isolating the waste from collection points to ensure passers-by do not get contaminated; segregating it and sending it for incineration,” he said.

As per the MPCB guidelines, Khaire explained the BMC had procured yellow bags (the official colour of all Covid-19 waste) with biohazard signs on them. Yellow bags should contain used syringes, medicines, used masks, gloves, urine bags, body fluid or blood soaked tissues or cotton etc. “This is being taken to an incinerator facility at Deonar dumping ground using a separate vehicle within three hours of collection. All other waste is being collected in black bags and taken to another section at Deonar using separate vehicles where special treatment using sodium hypochlorite solution is being done, and then discarded,” said Khaire. “Personal protective equipment (PPE) for those handling Covid-19 waste is also sent to the incinerator facility after every trip, and fresh PPE is provided.”

Confusion over waste segregation began when the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on March 25 issued a circular that Covid-19 waste from quarantine camps, homes and other self-isolation units need not be collected under the new Covid-19 waste rules, but treated as general biomedical waste. However, the MPCB clarified that this was not a safe practice and did not alter the state’s guidelines. “We need to be very careful and treat all in isolation as infected to cut off transmission,” said Supate.

Experts said behavioural change was needed. “Despite visible concerns related to the virus, people’s attitude does not change. The only option is stricter proactive enforcement, which is also not happening. This waste should not change hands. More hazmat suits are needed. Once the waste is removed from the hotspot, it should be disinfected from outside and incinerated as early as possible,” said Dilip Boralkar, former member secretary, MPCB.


    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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