Hospital waste crisis?

SunStar Peña
SunStar Peña

Local government units (LGUs) fear that the impending closure of the sanitary landfill of the Metro Clark Waste Management Corporation (MCWM) in Kalangitan, Capas, Tarlac, will cause a garbage crisis. The Bases Conversion Development Authority and Clark Development Corporation allayed these fears saying there are three facilities in Pampanga that can absorb the waste. Assuming that these facilities can indeed take in household waste, what about treated hazardous waste, especially hospital waste?

Not all sanitary landfills can accept treated hazardous waste. I was told by an Environmental Management Bureau official that at present, there are only two sanitary landfills in the Philippines that have the permit and physical set-up to accept this special waste. One is the MCWM landfill and the other is located in the South. According to the hazardous waste treaters I interviewed in my radio program, at least 7,000 tons of treated hazardous waste goes into these facilities every month.

There are many types of hazardous waste but let us focus on medical waste or health care waste. According to the Joint DENR-DOH Administrative Order No. 02, series of 2005, health care waste are those generated by hospitals (Primary Care, Secondary Care and Tertiary Care), infirmaries, birthing homes, clinics, dialysis, dental, health care centers and dispensaries, veterinary, blood banks, drug manufacturers, drug rehabilitation center, nursing homes, mortuary and autopsy centers, medical and dental schools and research centers, medical and biomedical laboratories.

Before the passage of the Clean Air Act, hospitals burned their mixed waste in incinerators. This method is no longer permitted. Current treatment options include thermal (non-burn), chemical, irradiation, biological processes, encapsulation, and inertization, as outlined in the DOH Health Care Waste Management Manual. These are subject to compliance with applicable laws such as RA 8749 or the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

After treatment, health care waste cannot be disposed of in an ordinary sanitary landfill. It should be placed in dedicated cells and should not be mixed with municipal solid wastes. A cell is a single, waste-holding unit within the larger landfill. Those with approved ECC for the disposal of municipal solid waste must first secure an amendment of their ECC before accepting health care waste for disposal thereat.

The two existing sanitary landfills in Pampanga are not yet ready to accept treated medical waste. The third facility which is classified as a materials recovery facility (MRF), definitely cannot accept this special waste. In the absence of a final disposal site, treaters will be forced to stop their operations. Medical waste will then pile up, causing an environmental and health crisis.

What if there is another surge in COVID-19 cases? At the height of the pandemic Around 52,000 metric tons of hospital waste was generated from April 2020 to March 31, 2021. That is equivalent to 2 million sacks of rice, with one sack containing 25 kilograms. Where will the treated waste go?

I hope that our policy makers have a full picture of the situation and decide for the benefit of the public.

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