By Hindustan Times

A RESPONSE to an RTI query has revealed what experts have been suspecting for long; most of Delhi's hazardous hospital waste is being indiscriminately burnt in incinerators without proper segregation. By doing that, cancer-causing fumes are being released in the Capital's air.

In 1998, the Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules came about to make sure that through proper segregation by hospital stuff, most of the hazardous waste is autoclaved and only the bare minimum is incinerated - burnt in centralised chambers. An autoclave works like a pressure cooker. It pressure-heats biomedical wastes like syringes, tubes and blood packs, which are considered infectious and hazardous. The pressure sterilises the matter and eventually reduces it to a form that cannot be reused.

The RTI response, however, shows the amount of incinerated waste is a whopping five times higher than what is autoclaved. "If incinerable waste by far outweighs autoclavable waste, it means hospitals and pathological laboratories are not being stringent about waste segregation," said Prashant Pastore, lead researcher of NGO Toxics Link, which has carried out a study based on the RTI data from two large centralised biomedical waste facilities.

"Waste-generating bodies must be carelessly dumping non-incinerable materials, which ideally should go for autoclaving. That kind of waste cannot outweigh autoclavable waste, which is usually syringes, tubes, packets etc. If such waste are incinerated, then a lot of cancer- causing gases like dioxin and furan are being emitted into Delhi's air," said Parvinder Singh, of Toxics Link.

In terms of environmental hazard, the findings have grave implications. "Globally, incinerators are being done away with because they have been found to be extremely polluting. The idea is to achieve minimal incineration. But with this kind of figures, the very basics of hazardous waste management appear to be missing," said Dr T.K. Joshi, expert on Delhi government's panel on biomedical waste.

The data on the amount of waste handled by biomedical waste facilities for five consecutive days showed that ratio of incinerable and autoclavable waste is a dangerous 5:1. For instance, Synergy Waste Management, the company running two biomedical waste treatment facilities, autoclaves around 1469 kgs of hospital discard. In comparison, the incinerated amount is an astonishing 7184 kgs. "Usually, 80 per cent of waste is incinerated because they come in the mandatory yellow bag so we have no option but to burn them. Most of the time they contain plastic and PVC material and syringes," admits Neeraj Aggarwal, proprietor of Synergy.

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