Biomedical waste from quarantine homes remain a potential hazard
The Central Pollution Control Board has tagged these wastes – masks and gloves - generated from quarantined homes as ‘domestic hazardous waste and has issued guidelines on how to handle them.
Thousands of people across India, who are suspected of being potential carriers of the deadly coronavirus, have been advised by doctors to stay in home quarantine for 14 days. While some states have already set up a mechanism to collect the biomedical waste generated from these quarantined houses, others seem to be still lagging behind.
The Central Pollution Control Board has tagged these wastes – masks and gloves - generated from quarantined homes as ‘domestic hazardous waste and has issued guidelines on how to handle them. But till date much of the biomedical waste are getting the same treatment as solid domestic waste instead of being treated at Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facilities (CBWTF).
This, experts say is dangerous as it further increase the risk of an outbreak as many people who were home quarantined were detected with the virus at a later stage.
The CPCB’s guidelines say that such wastes should be collected from doorsteps in yellow bags which are to be provided by the authorities. The civic body should engage a dedicated team of trained workers equipped with protective gear for this door-step collection. The authorities need to maintain a list of such homes.
In Himachal Pradesh, the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) has set up a trained task force for door-to-door collection. They workers are provided with N95 masks and sanitizers.
“The quarantine houses are informed before we go for collection. They are provided with yellow garbage bags, disinfectants and gloves. The garbage collector puts the yellow bag inside another bag which is sealed and sent for disposal,” said Surekha Cohpda district health officer.
In Madhya Pradesh too the mechanism has been set up for home collection but sometime citizens raise objections when vehicles enter the locality to collect biomedical waste.
“When we go for door-to-door collection with vehicles, some people raise objections. They fear that the vehicle may spread germs even though the entire process is done in a scientific manner,” said Deepak Shah, adviser to MP Nursing Home Association, which manages the biomedical incinerators.
In West Bengal where more than 50,000 people have been presently kept under home quarantine, the mechanism for a proper home collection system seems to be lagging.
“In West Bengal the mechanism to collect and dispose biomedical waste from hospitals is run by the health department. The civic bodies are no way associated with this,” said Subrata Gupta, secretary of urban development department.
Even though top health officials including the secretary and the director of health services didn’t take calls, one of the CBWTFs said that the health department has not issued any directions of collection of biomedical waste from houses till date.
“We have been asked to collect biomedical waste only from hospitals. We have not received any orders to collect such waste from door step or provide yellow bags to houses,” said Krishnendu Dutta, deputy general manager (operations) at Medicare Environmental Management which runs at least three facilities in West Bengal.
In Bihar, even though officials claimed that that biomedical waste is being properly collected and disposed according to guidelines laid down by the government, an official of a waste disposal agency, not willing to be quoted, said there were many loopholes in disposal of waste generated from the home quarantine centres set up in villages.
“Initially we faced some problem but now things have been streamlined,” said Krunesh Garg member secretary of Punjab Pollution Control Board, adding that the board has distributed double layered, yellow coloured bags for collection of waste and separate sanitation staff has been deputed for collections of the waste.
In Rajasthan authorities are still trying to put the system in place. “The state pollution board will be collecting the data related to biomedical waste. The health and the local-self-government department have to share list of Covid19 related facilities by Saturday along with how much the biomedical waste is collected. We are bringing the system in place,” said Shailaja Deval, Member Secretary of the Rajastha pollution control board.
Experts have raised doubts over what is happening on the ground and whether the guidelines of the CPCB and state pollution control boards are being properly implemented.
“The guidelines seem good on paper. But I have serious doubts of what is happening on the ground. Instead of creating a separate team by ULBs for collection, which needs to be trained, the task of collection from houses should be handled by the CBWTFs. They have the expertise and were doing the job of collection and disposal of waste generated by hospitals. These biomedical waste generated at homes are no different. They have the same virus and could be a threat. It is just that the generation points have increased,” said Satish Sinha, associate director at Toxics Link, a NGO working on waste management.