Biomedical waste from quarantined homes remains a potential hazard

Updated on Apr 05, 2020 04:05 AM IST

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has tagged this waste – face masks and gloves - “domestic hazardous waste” and issued guidelines on how to handle it.

Worker in Wuhan clears biomedical waste.(AP)
Worker in Wuhan clears biomedical waste.(AP)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

Thousands of people across India have been advised by doctors to stay in home quarantine for 14 days on suspicion that they could be potential carriers of the deadly coronavirus disease (Covid-19), . Some states have already set up a system to collect the biomedical waste generated by the quarantined households, but others seem to be lagging behind.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has tagged this waste – face masks and gloves - “domestic hazardous waste” and issued guidelines on how to handle it. But till date, much of the biomedical waste is getting the same treatment as solid domestic waste instead of being disposed of at Common Biomedical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facilities (CBWTFs).

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This, experts say, is dangerous because it increase the risk of the disease spreading; many people who were home-quarantined were detected with the virus at a later stage.

The CPCB’s guidelines say that such waste should be collected from doorsteps in yellow bags which are to be provided by the authorities. Civic bodies should engage a dedicated team of trained workers equipped with protective gear for the doorstep 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 quarantined 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, the district health officer.

In Madhya Pradesh, too, a system has been set in place for home collection but sometime citizens raise objections when vehicles enter the neighbourhood 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 the MP Nursing Home Association, which manages the biomedical incinerators.

In West Bengal, where more than 50,000 people are under home quarantine, the authorities seem to be lagging behind in putting such a system in place .

“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 the urban development department.

Although top health officials including the secretary and the director of health services didn’t take calls, one of the CBWTFs said the health department had not issued any directions for collection of biomedical waste from till date.

“We have been asked to collect biomedical waste only from hospitals. We have not received any orders to collect such waste from doorstep or provide yellow bags to houses,” said Krishnendu Dutta, deputy general manager (operations) at Medicare Environmental Management, which runs three CBWTFs in West Bengal.

In Bihar, although officials claimed that biomedical waste was being properly collected and disposed according to the guidelines laid down by the government, an official of a waste disposal agency, requesting anonymity, said there were many loopholes in the disposal of waste generated by quarantine centres set up in villages.

“Initially we faced some problem but now things have been streamlined,” said Krunesh Garg, member-secretary of the Punjab Pollution Control Board, adding that the board had distributed double-layered, yellow-colour bags for collection of waste. Separate sanitation staff has been deputed for collections of the waste.

In Rajasthan, the authorities are still trying to put a 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 a list of Covid-19 related facilities by Saturday along with how much of the biomedical waste is collected. We are bringing the system in place,” said Shailaja Deval, member-secretary of the Rajastha pollution control board.

Experts like Satish Sinha, associate director at Toxics Link, an NGO working on waste management, doubt that the guidelines of the CPCB and state pollution control boards are being properly implemented on the ground.

“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 {urban local bodies} for collection, which needs to be trained, the task of collection from houses should be handled by the CBWTFs,” Sinha said. “They have the expertise and were doing the job of collection and disposal of waste generated by hospitals. The biomedical waste generated at homes is no different. They have the same virus and could be a threat. It is just that the generation points have increased.”

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