CHENNAI: Chennai is home to around 900-odd hospitals and clinics but it has only two common treatment facilities to safely dispose of hazardous biomedical waste. This, in turn, has resulted in widespread dumping of biomedical waste, especially in the city's suburbs.
Sacks full of used syringes, masks and gloves along with expired medicines are dumped in water bodies and river banks. This could spiral into a bigger health hazard and become a threat to groundwater quality too, say residents and experts.
While officials have been ignorant of the threat posed by biomedical wastes and after repeated reports only pollution control board swung into action to remove biomedical waste dumped along Kundrathur-Porur road, residents and experts wonder whether this one-time action is enough to curb such dumping. Experts pointed out that severe lack of common biomedical waste treatment facilities in the state and city is the main reason for this.
For 1500-odd hospitals and clinics in Chennai, Tiruvallur, and Kancheepuram districts there are only two facilities in Madurantakam. And for the rest of Tamil Nadu, there are only merely nine such facilities to manage waste from 6,000-odd hospitals and clinics.
From 2009 till 2017, sufficient number of treatment centres have not been built by the state government. Since 2017, only three centres have been built. In comparison states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala have 25 plus such centres. Maharashtra alone has 38 treatment centres to treat solid medical waste.
According to the Biomedical Waste Management Rules, 2016, all hospitals are mandated to segregate their medical waste into four categories and send it to the nearest common treatment facility. Those hospitals that don't abide by this, can be shut down by pollution control board authorities.
Jawaharlal Shanmugam, an activist who has been advocating for safe disposal of biomedical waste for the last five years, said the entire system needs to become much stricter to curb this menace. Due to loopholes in the system even big hospitals with high placed connections get away with such activities.
"No one, including the pollution control board officials, take the biomedical waste management rules seriously. Even if such an issue is brought to the NGT, the case eventually gets squashed. Though most hospitals are mandated to have a liquid treatment facility for biomedical waste, only a very few have this setup on premises," added Jawahar.
Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board officials cited resistance from public as the main reason for setting up less treatment plants. "We do have lesser treated plants than necessary. Two plants coming up at
Virudhachalam and Tirupur districts have been delayed due to opposition from public. The public think that they will get diseases if such a plants comes close to their homes," said a senior official.
Express alone has reported instances of biomedical waste including expired medicines, being dumped in areas like Anakaputhur, Kundrathur, Vandalur and Poonamallee. In Tiruneermalai alone, three such instances were reported. And in most cases, these were discarded along river banks and on water bodies.
In the case of Kundrathur, close to 10 sacks full of used gloves, masks and syringes were found to be dumped on an empty farmland. A few metres away from this spot, along Kovur service road, multiple tubes of expired medicines and ointments were found was also spotted by a local civic activist, V Pugalventhan. He has been helping officials to bring such activities to light for the last two years.
"Drug inspectors appointed by the drug control department are present for Pallavaram and Tambaram municipalities. But not once have I heard of them regularly inspecting any of these stretches. There is a severe lack of coordination between local officials and such authorities," said Pughal.
TNPCB officials said that the pharmaceutical company responsible for dumping expired medicines near Vandalur was sealed by officials last week. "Similarly, we will find the preparator in the Kundrathur case and shut down the facility. Public can contact us to report such incidents and we will take strict action," added an official.
Those who want to alert officials about illegal biomedical waste dumping can contact- 044-27454422 (Chengelpet), 9884800236 (Kancheepuram), 044-26223603 (Chennai), 044-27664425(Tiruvallur).