Mon, May 05, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Medical waste disposal questioned

DOUBTS EXIST Statistics on the safe removal of waste differ, which raises concerns about the public health of the nation possibly being jeopardized on a daily basis

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Workers disinfect boxes of medical waste from Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital before sending them to incinerators yesterday.

PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

Existing regulations on the management of medical waste can effectively trace all procedures, preventing illegal dumping from being carried out, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said yesterday.

Due to the recent spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), both legislators and environmentalists have expressed their doubts about the safe management of medical waste.

KMT Legislator Hsu Chung-hsiung (徐中雄) said last week that statistics on the amount of infectious waste from hospitals provided by the EPA and the Cabinet's Department of Health (DOH) differed, exposing problems about infectious waste that had gone missing, which might jeopardize public health.

Hsu said the DOH statistics showed that last year all hospitals and clinics in Taiwan produced 16,352 metric tons of infectious waste. The EPA, however, last year traced only 10,165 metric tonnes of infectious waste.

"It implied that last year about 6,000 metric tonnes of infectious waste went missing, which accounts to about 40 percent of the total," Hsu said.

According to Hsu, illegal waste handlers could earn NT$ 250 million from dumping such infectious waste.

The average price for treating each metric tonne of infectious waste ranged from NT$40,000 to NT$ 50,000.

Hsu said that missing infectious waste could end up at operational waste incinerators, where household waste was treated, or at landfills.

"The government should conduct health-risk assessments on the illegal dumping as soon as possible," he added.

Environmentalists said that it was dangerous to use large incinerators, built for household waste, to burn infectious waste.

"Burning used medical appliances made of PVC will produce dioxin during its combustion," said George Cheng (鄭益明), secretary-general of the Taiwan Watch Institution.

In addition, Cheng said, the health of workers at incinerators could be in jeopardy because infectious waste was stored inside buildings for a few days before being burnt.

According to Yang Ching-shi (楊慶熙), deputy director of the EPA's Solid Waste Control Bureau, the EPA statistics contain all records filed by waste handlers, which contract most local hospitals and clinics.

Yang predicted that existing waste handlers deal with about 95 percent of infectious waste produced in Taiwan.

EPA officials, however, said yesterday that the EPA used different channels to trace infectious waste produced by 18,000 hospitals and clinics on the island.

The total capacity the 26 waste handlers in charge of infectious waste is capable of handling is about 180 metric tonnes, which is much larger than the amount of such waste produced daily, which amounts to 40 metric tonnes.

EPA officials said they were aware of some unreported cases involving the treatment of infectious waste and urged residents to report any illegal waste dumping.

DOH officials said that waste handlers sometimes monopolize the business in certain areas.

Health officials said establishing small medical incinerators at hospitals could be a solution to problems over the management of infectious waste.

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