As the world tackles the coronavirus pandemic, the global community is facing yet another challenge – rising quantities of biomedical waste. The WHO estimates that the world in this current pandemic situation is using about 89 million masks and 16 million gloves each month! A recent report from Assam indicates that the hospitals and quarantine facilities involved in the treatment of the virus-infected people are producing around 3 tonnes of biomedical waste on a daily basis.

The situation has become so worse that the state government was compelled to sign a new agreement with the Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF).

According to Mr. Jagat Deka, assistant engineer, Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA), there is only one CBWFT in Assam and that is located in Panikhaiti, a town on the outskirts of Guwahati. The challenge that the treatment facility at Panikhaiti is facing is of geographical proximity.  The plant is not able to safely dispose of the waste being produced from the other parts of the state. It is because one CBWTF can only operate within a radius of 150 km as per the Biomedical Waste Management Rules 2016.

The Panikhaiti treatment plant run by Fresh Air Waste Management Services Pvt. Ltd. is able to treat only the waste being produced in the Guwahati and nearby areas.  Thereby, leaving huge cause of concern in the other parts of the state as there are no treatment facilities.

As per the PCBA, the huge volume of biomedical waste including PPE kits, hand gloves etc. are being chemically treated and are being disposed of in a deep burial in the barren land. This leaves us with question soil and water contamination arising due to such kind of disposal practices. It is important to note that the Biomedical Waste Management Rules 2016 mandates hospitals and healthcare facilities to treat medical waste only through Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility.

The agreement signed by the government, calls for the segregation of the waste and storage in color-coded bags by the hospitals and healthcare facilities. The vendor will then be responsible for the collection, transportation, treatment and disposal of biomedical waste.

It is further important to note that Assam has  3 health care facilities with 500 beds and more; 5 are with 200 beds and more; 47 facilities with 50 beds and more. Also, there are 427 facilities with less than 50 beds in the state. The PCBA has also identified nearly 482 biomedical waste generators in the State.

(By: Gautam Kumar)

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