Check biomedical incinerator emissions: UNIDO

Emissions from biomedical incinerators should be kept in check: UN’s Industrial body
United Nations Industrial Development Organization's (UNIDO) representative in India, Rene Van Berkel. Photo: IANS
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New Delhi: The United Nations Industrial Development Organization's (UNIDO) representative in India, Rene Van Berkel, on Tuesday pressed on the need to keep a check on the emissions from the biomedical incinerators, the instruments in which medical waste is burnt, amid the double whammy of raging Covid-19 pandemic and rising air pollution.

India generated 18,006 tonnes of Covid-19 biomedical waste, generally consisting of masks, PPE kits, syringes, blood samples and body tissues etc. in the last four months. According to a study conducted by IIT Kanpur and Delhi Pollution Control Board, emission from medical incinerators contribute 12 per cent to Delhi's pollution crisis.

In an interview with IANS, Rene Van Berkel said, "Burning of biomedical waste gives rise to what is called persistent organic pollutants. The incinerator should be of high standard to keep the emissions in check. It should also be made sure that they have the best available technology and follow best environment practices."

Giving alternatives, Berkel said that there is an upcoming technology where plastic biomedical waste like tubes and catheters can be put in an industrial microwave which in turn kills the virus, and shreds and recycles the plastic.

"There is another option wherein you can steam the infected equipment," he said, giving alternative.

Besides this, the UNIDO representative also stressed the need to halt the spread of Covid-19 through management of infectious waste.

Improper handling of biomedical wastes from hospitals adds to the spread of Covid-19, and hence safe handling and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response to the pandemic.

"India has 30-40 per cent biomedical waste now as against the normal period due to the pandemic. Out of 2.6 lakh facilities in India, not everyone has implemented the rules of collection, segregation and disposal of medical waste and are, therefore, facing a challenge. We should try to rule out every possible transmission routes. The situation is avoidable," he added.

Biomedical waste is a threat to global public and environmental health. Worldwide, it is estimated that at least 5.2 million people, including 4 million children, die each year because of diseases related to unmanaged medical waste.

According to Central Pollution Control Board data, the country generated 18,006 tonnes of Covid-19 biomedical waste in the last four months, with Maharashtra contributing the maximum, 3,587 tonnes.

Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, the surge in infectious waste from healthcare facilities as well as residential and other sectors has become a new major threat to public health and environment.

Improper handling of biomedical wastes from hospitals adds to the spread of Covid-19, and hence safe handling and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response to the pandemic.

The UNIDO has been working to develop and implement environmentally sound practices and techniques for medical waste with 160 plus hospitals across the states of Karnataka, Punjab, Odisha, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Since the onset of Covid-19, it has been reported that project interventions have resulted in achieving near-zero Covid-19 infections among waste management workers in project hospitals.

This was done through a multi-faceted approach which included strict segregation and containment of waste supported by instructional videos, professional training, development and roll-out of Covid-19 specific biomedical waste rules, identification and promotion of suppliers of waste management related goods and services.

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