While there are 11 biomedical processing facilities in the State, only 8 of them are operational. Many clinics dump waste into waterbodies, risking many health hazards.
Every morning, residents of the southern and south-western suburbs of Anakaputhur, Tiruneermalai and surrounding areas wake up to find biomedical waste dumped along the road, in ponds and canals in their neighbourhood. According to experts and activists, the lack of adequate number of facilities to process such waste generated by hospitals and clinics, and the unwillingness to take punitive action against those who are dumping it have led to this situation where biomedical waste is discarded in public places, including even waterbodies.
The people here say they do not know who is behind this, as the dumping happens in the cover of darkness. They come in the night, dump the waste and burn it, said Kumaran, adding that it was continuing despite repeated complaints to the TNPCB. Similar is the experience of the residents the nearby Kundrathur, who found biomedical waste in a canal.
“We suspect clinics in the locality of dumping the waste in the canal instead of giving it to the incineration contractors. It has been more than two weeks since we complained but no official has visited the place or took effort to clean the canal,” said Gomathi S, a Kundrathur resident.
“The TNPCB should take necessary steps to act against the people who are dumping the medical waste in the riverbed and open areas. Even dumping them at the dump yards in Kodungaiyur and Perungudi yard is illegal. The government should show some seriousness about the issue,” said Jawaharlal Shanmugam, an activist who has taken the up such matters at various platforms, including the National Green Tribunal.
Beyond the criminal indifference with which such hazardous waste is being discarded even in waterbodies, what is also true is that the State does not have adequate facilities to process biomedical waste. Tamil Nadu has only 11 such facilities, of which only 8 are operational. This translates to only one unit for four districts. In contrast, other big states are much better equipped –Maharashtra has 38 while Karnataka has 28.
According to him, the number of doctors in Tamil Nadu is higher than many other States in the country. So similarly, the number of biomedical waste treatment plants should also be more. But that is not the case, he said, adding that the TNPCB has been giving conflicting number on the number of healthcare facilities in the State when he filed a petition in the court.
“In March 2019, the board said 4,000 healthcare facilities are there in the State. When called again in May, it said there were about 7,000 facilities. If the officials are not sure about the actual number, how would they manage the waste they generate,” he wondered.
The State government was not doing any statistical analysis of such waste, while the Directorate of Medical Services and even the TNPCB have failed to understand the significance of analysing such data, he added.
V Pugazhvendhan, another activist, alleged that the TNPCB officials knew where the waste is coming from and who were dumping it. He added that the officials were not investigating such cases or taking action against healthcare facilities despite repeated complaints from activists and the public. Last month, when they filed a query under RTI last month seeking details on the dumping of biomedical waste, TNPCB replied that they would take action if anything happens in the future, he said.
“Every time we complain to the TNPCB officials, they ask us to approach the local bodies. But we don’t get any details from there, forcing us to return to the board,” said Pugazhvendhan.
Even as he admitted that only 8 of the 11 biomedical waste treatment facilities in the State were operational, S Selvan, Additional Chief Environmental Engineer, TNPCB, said: “Next year, there will be few more facilities in the State, the process on which is in process.”
Speaking to DT Next, G Gopalakrishnan, Joint Chief Environment Engineer, pointed out that illegal dumping can be stopped only through regular monitoring of healthcare facilities and what they do with the waste they generated. “But it must be done by the local bodies and not by us,” he said.
Gopalakrishnan added that unless awareness was created among smaller healthcare facilities on the hazards of dumping this waste, there would not be a permanent solution.
At the moment, with officials from TNPCB and local bodies blaming one another, and in the absence of any concrete data on the quantity of biomedical waste generated, environmental activists worry that there was no end in sight to the menace in the near future.