Government to set up own waste sites
Government is considering setting up its own facilities to help dispose of thousands of tons of so-called health care risk waste (HCRW) generated each year.
Poor management and “unhealthy” competition were crippling the medical waste sector, the environmental affairs department told MPs.
Kelello Ntoampe, director of authorisations and waste disposal management, said the amount of HCRW generated nationally rose sharply to 42,200 tons in 2007.
This was six thousand tons more than the country’s treatment facilities—which use incinerators and autoclaves to either burn or sterilise the waste—could handle at the time.
Ntoampe was briefing Parliament’s environmental affairs portfolio committee.
HCRW includes, among other things, discarded medicines and needles, used bandages and dressings, as well as amputated body parts, referred to as “anatomical waste”.
Ntoampe said the increase in such waste could be related to the high incidence of HIV/Aids in South Africa.
Another factor was poor training of staff at medical facilities, who mix general medical waste in with the HCRW, thereby increasing the volume.
Ntoampe said government had made it clear to the private sector in 2007 that it did not want to enter the HCRW treatment industry, and would prefer it organised and managed itself to provide a disposal service.
“This has failed, because three years later we’re in as problem where they’re being shut down for this and that.
“This is why we’re now proposing that maybe it’s time now for government to actually intervene and have regional facilities.
“This could either be provincial or national. At this stage a feasibility [study] has to be done... [to determine] are we talking one big or nine regional facilities,” she said.
A shortage of treatment capacity contributed directly to, among other things, “manipulation of the industry” by competing firms, illegal storage of medical waste, and illegal dumping.
A raid last year by the Green Scorpions on locations around Welkom in the Free State uncovered hundreds of tons of illegally-dumped biohazardous medical waste.
Ntoampe said several incineration units around the country had been closed down due to poor operation and non-compliance with environmental regulations.
Standards for the performance of incinerators had now been set, and HCRW regulations—currently being finalised—would be ready in February next year.
On what the department was doing in the short-term to improve the HCRW disposal situation, she said two facilities—one upgraded, the other new—were due to come on line in the Western Cape and Gauteng respectively.
“If these two come on line before the end of May, we should be fine, but we’re cutting it very thin... because the rate of increase in the generation of waste is not necessarily the same rate at which these facilities are being opened,” she warned.
Ntoampe later told Sapa there were five major medical waste incinerators operating around the country, and about the same number of autoclaves.