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Waste management & healthcare

January 11, 2013

THIS is apropos of the letter ‘Solid waste for generating power’ (Jan 2) by M. Suhail Khuwaja. We must be cautious about adverse health and environmental issues that threaten whenever solid waste management is linked to attractive issues like heat and energy generation.

Immediate concern over any incineration-linked cogeneration will be raised about atmospheric temperature and other greenhouse effects, toxic gases, especially nitrous and sulphur oxides, fly ash, and residual ash.

Whatever importers and local manufacturers of incinerators may say, Pakistan currently has no laboratories to measure stack emissions. We certainly cannot entrust our health to incinerator gauges, the fickleness of which every engineer will testify to.

Particularly to be legally banned is the use of incineration for hazardous healthcare waste disposal, especially in view of the fact that burning PVCs generates TCCDs, especially dioxins and furans which are the most toxic substances known to man.

Internationally, alternative technology has been universally adopted. There are less than 20 medical waste incinerators currently functioning in the US, down from several thousand a decade ago.

However, in Pakistan, the Environmental Protection Agency still has to categorically ban use of incinerators for this purpose. Were the EPA to even simply add the clause “… and other appropriate alternative technology …” to PEPA (1997), Section 2 xix and xxi (their recommendation of incinerators), there would be immediate health and economic benefits to Pakistan.

Briefly, Pakistan has been manufacturing high-pressure steam autoclaves for the health sector for a long time.

These could be easily modified and standardised to international autoclave technology for hazardous healthcare waste disposal. This would obviate imports and create a new industry with thousands of jobs with capability for export.

Needless to say, Pakistan would rapidly meet international standards with indigenously produced machines, achieving a first for Asia and Africa.

The dismal performance of the health sector in Pakistan, coupled with the abysmally low finances allocated to health till now, only makes us hope that the new elected government will do better.