Tue, Oct 21, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Safety of medical-waste incinerators questioned

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A recent dioxin-concentration survey indicates that about 60 percent of medical-waste incinerators do not meet new emission standards that go into effect in January.

Incinerator operators who fail to meet the new requirements will be forced to halt operations or face heavy fines, Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) acting administrator Chang Juu-en (張祖恩) said yesterday.

Chang made the remark in response to concerns raised by People First Party Legislator (PFP) Cheng San-yun (鄭三元) about the possible spread of SARS and whether the nation's medical-waste system could deal with the waste generated by another outbreak of the disease.

Chang said the daily capacity of medical-waste incinerators is 183 tonnes, which far exceeds the nation's daily average production of 41 tonnes.

Chang said that the EPA was reviewing the operation of all medical-waste incinerators to ensure that levels of dioxin emissions meet the standards that take effect in January.

"We still have enough daily capacity to handle all medical waste even some unsatisfactory incinerators are shutdown," Chang said.

In addition, Chang said a Global Positioning System tracking system would be used to monitor trucks transferring medical waste to prevent illegal dumping. Chang said measures related to such a system will be announced at the end of this month.

According to the EPA, levels of dioxin emission from 14 of the 23 operational medical-waste incinerators are higher than the 0.5 ng-TEQ/Nm3 stipulated in the new regulations. One incinerator in Kaohsiung has a dioxin-emission concentration that is 200 times the new standard or 102 ng-TEQ/Nm3.

According to Leu Horng-guang (呂鴻光), director-general of the Bureau of Air Quality Protection and Noise Control, the operators of the 14 incinerators have been notified about their lax performance.

The EPA has been urging all medical-waste handlers over the past two years to improve the performance of incinerators.

"If they don't take action to improve performance and fail to meet the new regulations in January, we will have them closed," Leu said,

Hsieh Herlin (謝和霖), a researcher of Taiwan Watch Institute, told the Taipei Times that stricter regulations on medical-waste incineration is not an effective way to tackle the problem.

Hsieh said that the EPA should abandon burn-oriented waste-management policies and turn to alternatives such as decontaminating infectious medical waste.

Using autoclaves as an example, Hsieh said, many Western countries render biomedical waste noninfectious by heating it with steam under pressure.

"If the EPA sticks to waste incineration, at least it should establish other regulations to discourage the health-care sector from using medical appliances made of polyvinyl chloride [PVC]," Hsieh said.

According to Hsieh, Western studies show that burning PVC produces much more dioxin than burning newspapers or any other non-chlorinated plastic.

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