ALMOST 30,000 kilos of infectious medical wastes from more than 100 hospitals, birthing homes, lying-in clinics and laboratories in Metro Cebu have not been collected for more than a month.
The company that collects these types of waste in Cebu, Pollution Abatement Systems Services Inc. (PASSI), still needs to renew its transport, storage and disposal (TSD) permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7.
Thirty-seven hospitals, birthing homes, lying-in clinics and laboratories signed a petition yesterday asking Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama to mediate with DENR so their infectious wastes can finally be collected.
Most said their septic vaults are almost full.
A septic vault is a sealed concrete compartment that is buried six feet underground, where hospitals temporarily keep their infectious medical waste.
These include syringes, test tubes and contaminated materials such as swabs and bandages, among many others.
“Our storage area can no longer accommodate our waste since we have insufficient storage space. We worry so much that this non-collection, even for a couple of days, will make the city reek,” the petitioners said.
They addressed their petition to Rama considering that majority of the hospitals in Metro Cebu are in Cebu City.
Among those who signed the petition are Cebu Velez General Hospital, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), Vicente Gullas Memorial Hospital, Visayas Community Medical Center, Perpetual Succour Hospital, Cebu Puericulture Center and Maternity House, St. Vincent General Hospital, and Eversley Childs Sanitarium.
The petition also includes High Precision Diagnostics, Alpha Diagnostics Center, Sta. Rita Medical Clinic, Prime Care Cebu, Consolacion Community Doctors Inc., Paanakan sa Mandaue, and Physicians Diagnostic Center.
The Cebu City Medical Center faces the same problem but did not sign the petition.
In a media briefing yesterday, Velez’s pollution control officer Engr. Jocelyn Gonzales said the infectious medical wastes from their hospital were disinfected, placed in plastic bags and kept in their septic vaults. (The media briefing was organized by Rotary Club Mandaue East and Movement for a Livable Cebu).
The septic vaults, she said, are supposed to be temporary disposal areas for their hospital wastes in case PASSI can’t collect these for a few days.
Gonzales said they are fortunate that they have enough space within the hospital’s premises where they can horizontally expand their septic vaults. But that is not a solution, she added.
“Once the infectious waste will be uncollected, baho na kaayo na (it’s going to smell). We cannot just expand our septic vaults. In our neighboring area, we have restaurants, a school and a market, so this is really a problem,” she said.
Gonzales said their problem has already been presented before the DENR but they were told that there are no other private service providers, except for PASSI.
“Ang amo lang, magamay or madako na hospital, palihug tagai mi ug kinsa’y mokolekta. Mobayad ra man mi (Just give us someone who can collect these wastes. We will pay.) We don’t have a choice any more regardless of the price, regardless of the technology. Sige lang mi’g kubkob ani. Mura mi’g gahimo ug menteryo sa hospital (We’ve kept on digging, as if we were making a cemetery near the hospital),” she said.
Engr. Rolito Magdadaro of St. Vincent General Hospital said they are also placing their uncollected infectious waste in their septic vaults.
“The problem is baka mapuno na (these are about to get full),” he said.
The same concern was raised by Antonio Tanudra of the VSMMC, who said that their septic vaults are already 80 percent full.
The petitioners lamented that DENR failed to give them alternatives when they decided to stop PASSI’s operations.
As for PASSI, their pollution control officer Engr. Cleofe Cortes said they officially stopped their operations last March 18, as DENR instructed.
“Actually, we were supposed to stop in February but we have been receiving calls from our clients to collect. So we resumed until our attention was called again by DENR last month,” she said.
PASSI collects an average of 1,000 kilos of infectious waste per day from their more than 100 clients.
DENR ordered it to stop because of several alleged violations.
In a notice of violation dated Oct. 28, 2014, DENR 7 Director Engr. William Cuñado said that PASSI transported hospital waste from Adventist Hospital-Cebu, St. Anthony Mother and Child District Hospital, Minglanilla District Hospital and Talisay District Hospital without a proper manifest form.
This violates an administrative order issued by DENR in 2013 and carries a penalty of P50,000.
Also, Cuñado said that PASSI treated hospital waste from some hospitals without a TSD facility permit, which also violates their administrative order.
DENR then called PASSI to a technical conference last Nov. 11.
During the meeting, PASI president Engr. Julito Pugoy and Cortes vowed to apply for a TSD permit and secure a permit to transport waste from every hospital.
PASSI was also asked to construct a TSD facility for the treatment of the hospital waste and to upgrade their wastewater treatment plant. They were supposed to stop operating until these requirements were met.
DENR issued another notice of violation last March 4 reportedly after learning that PASSI did not stop its operations.
But Engineer Cortes, who also appeared during the media briefing yesterday, said they have already complied with all the requirements DENR asked for.
She said they finished constructing their P5-million TSD facility and wastewater treatment plant last March 23. They built this after the Cebu City Government closed the Inayawan Sanitary Landfill.
Cortes said that the company submitted a progress report to DENR last month but continues to wait for DENR’s final inspection and the issuance of a permit.
PASSI has been collecting, treating and disposing of wastes from the hospitals in Metro Cebu for 11 years now.
In a separate interview, Dr. Eddie Llamedo, DENR 7 spokesperson, confirmed that the agency issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO) against PASSI last Oct. 28.
Llamedo said that DENR plans to organize a dialogue with all hospitals and clinics in Cebu.
In the meantime, he urged hospitals and clinics that have contracts with PASSI to be accountable for their own waste.
“PASSI should show us that they have the competence and technical expertise, especially in the final disposal and treatment of their waste,” he added.