COVID-19: Disposing biomedical waste Bengal’s challenge at hand

The state is yet to follow CPCB guidelines on collection of biomedical waste of quarantined people

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Tuesday 31 March 2020

As novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continue to rise across the country, West Bengal is facing a mounting challenge — the disposal of medical waste of infected and suspected patients.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued guidelines regarding the collection of biomedical waste from the homes of quarantined people. However, they are not being properly followed in West Bengal, with many waste collectors facing difficulties in reporting to work due to the lockdown, claimed officials. 

According to state health department, about 44, 837 people had been put under home quarantine in West Bengal to contain COVID-19 spread till March 29, 2020.

According to the guidelines issued on March 18, 2020:

  • A dedicated vehicle for collecting biomedical waste and bi-layered bags should be provided to collectors
  • Waste treatment facilities should incinerate the waste as soon as it reaches the facility and disinfect vehicles to prevent exposure
  • Biomedical waste collectors should wear three-layered masks and be trained for handling waste
  • Hospitals should collect waste in a separate bin and deploy dedicated sanitation workers for the task

“The challenge gets bigger with every passing day. We have been working according to the guidelines, but also facing a range of problems,” said Ramakant Burman, managing director, Greentech Environ Management Ltd, one of the two major biomedical waste management units working in West Bengal.

According to Burman, lockdown has made it difficult for the staff to report for work according to the schedule. They have been facing local resistance as well, with those residing near the plant in Magrahat in South 24 Parganas district opposing treatment of biomedical waste, he added.

Burman claimed the matter was resolved after a local MLA and district police chief intervened.

The company collects medical waste from about 3,500 hospitals and health establishments, including Beliaghata Infectious Disease (ID) hospital in Kolkata — where most COVID-19 patients are being treated. 

Non-compliance is a major problem.

According to the guidelines for suspected patients under home quarantine:

Biomedical waste should be collected separately in yellow bags and the same be handed over to authorised waste collectors engaged by local bodies. Urban local body should engage common biomedical waste treatment facility to pick up such waste, either directly from quarantined houses or from identified collection points.

However, representatives of Medicare and Greentech Environ — the agencies treating biomedical waste in the state — confirmed that by March 29, they had not been engaged by the municipalities.

“We have not been contacted by any municipality regarding collection of biomedical waste generated in quarantined households,” said Burman.

State pollution control board chairman Kalyan Rudra claimed that they had forwarded the guidelines to state health department.

While a health department official claimed the matter “was being looked into”, a civic body official attributed the delay to “work burden”.

Experts have warned that faulty waste management may prove to be disastrous if a healthy person comes in contact with the infected waste.

“Used masks, tissue paper, cotton, medicine left-overs or any other material disposed of by quarantined persons can be highly infectious , and unless collected separately and incinerated; there is a high risk of the infection to spread through this waste,” said Utpal Chattapadhyay, director of All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health (AIIH&PH).

Unless the waste is collected separately, it will mix with common solid waste and turn it infectious,” explained Arunava Majumdar, public health expert formerly associated with AIIH&PH.

He suggested that infectious waste should be collected in yellow bags and municipalities should make a separate arrangement to collect them from such houses, and then hand it over to biomedical waste management facilities.

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