No place to dump infectious wastes

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THE Philippines doesn’t have an appropriate place to dump 5,000 tons of medical wastes generated on a monthly basis from the time coronavirus hit the country.

Instead, garbage of this type have been dumped in sanitary landfills and handled by inadequately-equipped solid waste management personnel whose health are compromised amid a highly-infectious virus that has preyed on no less than 224,000 Filipinos as of this posting.

No less than the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has released the data hinting on what appears to be a general practice among health care institutions which have been merging medical wastes to other garbage for repository to government-designated sanitary landfills.

Pathogen-Loaded Wastes Surgical masks, personal protective ward robes, COVID-19 swab sticks, syringes, glass slides, empty blood packs, consumed dextrose canisters, tissues, cotton, napkins, clothes from patients who succumbed to the infectious disease, rapid and PCR test kits form part of the regular garbage which have been collected and dumped in open-pit dumps, landfills and even on the streets and waterways.

DENR said that these infectious wastes are believed to be harboring pathogens exposing virus to anyone who may have touched or gone close to it. Aside from human infections, DENR hinted on the possibility of clogging rivers and possibly be carried by the current and end up in the seas where it dissolves into micro-plastics, posing danger of altering marine eco-system.

In separately issued statements, at least four environmental advocacy groups expressed concern over the possibility of contracting the dreaded coronavirus from discarded masks adding that proper disposal of medical wastes, which include protective gears, would significantly minimize spreading of the virus in the same manner that it would prevent harm to the environment. Prominent environment groups including Greenpeace International and Oceana Philippines, earlier said that disposal of medical wastes has become a major problem since the onset of the pandemic in the Philippines.

DENR hazardous waste management division Chief Geri Sañez himself admitted that the government faces a big challenge over the infectious wastes which have been mixed with other garbage.

Interestingly, the DENR don’t seem to have any appropriate trash dump exclusively catering to hazardous, infectious waste. Back in the early to mid-90s, Filipino entrepreneur Rene Valerio tried to put up a medical waste facility in San Mateo, Rizal.

Valerio who was them closely working with local environmental experts, including Metodio Palaypay, urged the government to seriously consider putting up a separate solid waste management facility that would exclusively address the concern on the extremely hazardous and infectious medical wastes.

Part of the solution Valerio was offering then was his technology that would transform the hazardous and infectious medical wastes into paint solutions which he aptly demonstrated in a facility he owns in Barangay Maly in San Mateo, Rizal. Instead of considering, the local government shut it down.

Two laws — Republic Act No. 6969 and Republic Act No. 9003, prescribe guidelines for hazardous waste management, which includes the need to segregate and isolate the medical wastes for at least three days before disposing of them.

Unfortunately, medical wastes from households go the streets, sidewalks and waterways. Medical wastes from the hospitals go to the regular dumpsites where garbage collectors are told to bring them.

For the hospitals, RA 6969 and 9003 both underscore the need to first disinfect their infectious wastes, using autoclave, alkaline hydrolysis or microwave treatment, before throwing them out for garbage collection.

In Cavite, most hospitals take their medical wastes to landfills in Metro Clark in Tarlac and Cleanway in Silang, Cavite. For those who can’t afford the high-cost of handling fees, they go to municipal landfills. Metro Manila hospitals end up in a landfill in Montalban, Rizal.

With most of these reposities closing saturation, chances of another crisis looms. More than the garbage crisis, the health and safety of some 108 million Filipinos is again being compromised.
There’s nothing political in this issue but it does need political will ASAP. 

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