Perilous disposal of wastes

by Abu Shams

The growing urbanisation involving proliferation of health clinics and hospitals within and outside city periphery has already entailed to an ominous extent hazards from careless disposal of hospital wastes. These hazards include the presence of used needles, syringes, blood-stained gauge and bandages in the garbage dumps in the vicinity of such clinics and hospitals. There are dangers from contaminated blood, blood, urine and swab samples when the lab tests are done. Apart from fake use of syringes, saline bags and other medical items, which can be got rid of by adopting fool-proof disposal methods, health experts are of the opinion that the usually harmful laboratory test samples also need be disposed of with particular care. Even if these harmful things are poured into covered drains or flushed down sanitary toilets, there is no guarantee that the bacteria and germs are effectively destroyed.

The effective disposal of hospital wastes presents one aspect of the problem. There are more than 20 pharmaceutical plants in Tongi industrial zone and at Savar which present another dangerous scenario. Itís an open secret that these plants routinely dump hundreds of tonnes of untreated chemical effluents into open sewers that flow into nearby rivers and closed water bodies endangering marine as well as human life. Only a few plants, mostly multinational, have waste treatment facilities. Others simply dump their wastes without taking, the least care about the damaging effect these harmful chemical may cause.

The Department of Environment (DOE) has laid down specific rules to contain discharge of industrial wastes. But, as DOE sources say, it rarely examines the discharge of water and gases released from the plants. On the other hand, the Drug Administration is said to be not properly equipped to play the regulatory role for want of logistic and personnel support.

The supervising officials hardly do their jobs regularly as they are easily subject to graft offered by the plant owners or managers.

According to an environmentalist, potential for health hazards is all too high where there is no waste treatment plant. Worse still, a large number of people living in the areas where such plants operate become easy victims of the harmful chemicals. The most important thing is that the government must take steps to strengthen the arm of law. In the greater interest of public health,it is felt that there should be an immediate review of the logistic and personnel aspects of administering sectors. Since the wide prevalence of the bribery factor goes to negative for any fruitful and effective outcome, a superior watchdog authority with adequate penalising powers could be the only answer.

Observers look upon the pharma plant scenario, as at present existing as being very discouraging. In their opinion, most of the existing plants producing more than 200 categories of drugs operate without effluent treatment plant, initial environment examination report, environmental management plant, pollution effect abatement plant and other emergency devices as required by law. Such delinquent plants need be dealt with firmly. Until and unless waste treatment facilities are installed at these plants, their licences to operate desrve to be suspended.

Source: The Independent, 2 February 2001