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Mon, Aug 28, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Mountains of medical waste growing higher

NO SOLUTION With the closure of many medical waste incinerators, the government has suggested storing the material until a better method of disposal is found. Meanwhile, the problem is getting worse

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

In the wake of the recent closure of a handful of medical waste incinerators, several emergency measures announced by the Environmental Protection Admin-istration (EPA) have been carried out islandwide to counter a growing mountain of medical waste.

But few of the solutions suggested by the EPA have helped solve the problem: an expanding amount of waste that grows larger each day.

"Now, we don't even have space to store the medical waste that has accumulated," said T.L. Huang (黃清連), chairman and president of Katec R&D Corporation (嘉德技術開發公司) a company that handles waste.

Following the recent closure of four incinerators owned by major medical waste-handlers, the problem has continued to grow.

EPA officials have proposed alternative solutions like the use of public incinerators for medical waste, if local governments have no objection.

EPA officials have also suggested that funeral homes consider burning human and animal tissue from hospitals. But this too, is also dependent on medical associations reaching an agreement with municipal funeral homes.

Neither idea has been put into practice yet and medical waste is now piling up in refrigeration spaces in hospitals until it can be incinerated.

"Keeping waste in refrigerators is just a temporary measure," said KMT legislator Chen Horng-chi (陳鴻基), during a public hearing last week, to discuss the problem.

No space for storage

According to the EPA, nearly 50 tonnes of medical waste are generated by hospitals and clinics each day in Taiwan.

Katec, who is in charge of treating one-third of Taiwan's medical waste, says that with the increase of medical waste, it is now forced to choose between storing medical waste or losing business.

In June, strong local opposition to Katec's operations in central Taiwan caused a temporary closure of their incinerators in Miaoli.

Once its ability to incinerate waste was cut, Katec had no choice but to terminate contracts with a number of hospitals and infirmaries in Kaohsiung in July. In August it stopped collecting waste there altogether.

Katec's withdrawal has resulted in a chaotic situation in medical circles in Kaohsiung. For hospitals and infirmaries in Kaohsiung, however, an even worse result was that Kaohsiung Medical Waste Handling (高雄醫療廢棄物處理公司), another Kaohsiung County-based waste-handler, was forced to shut down its incinerators in early August because of local opposition.

According to the Kaohsiung City Medical Association (高雄市醫師公會), more than 1,800 hospitals and clinics in Kaohsiung -- which together generate about 4.5 tonnes of medical waste per day -- have been storing medical waste since Aug. 7.

"What are we doctors supposed to do? The government has done nothing to help us find places to temporarily store the waste," Hsiao Chih-wen (蕭志文), the association's director-general, told the Taipei Times.

Staff at the association told the Taipei Times that doctors have said that the situation might lead to an increase in illegal dumping.

Katec is now in the position of having to deal with waste it has been storing -- and not taking on new collecting jobs.

"We have no choice. We have to deal with accumulated waste first before resuming waste-collecting work in hospitals," said James Ho (何春松), manager of Katec's resource recycling center.

"At least local governments should have found space for us to store material in refrigerators," Ho said, adding that not until mid-September will the company have ability to handle medical waste in northern Taiwan at normal levels.

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