In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new kinds of garbage, that in early 2020 had not even been conceived possible. The mask is one of them, but there are others.
The newest challenge to the government is clearing the daily growing piles of bio-medical waste that has arisen due to the pandemic. There has been a 50 per cent rise in bio-medical waste that has increased from 2300 kg a day in December 2020 to 3500 kg per day in May 2021. As reported earlier by Herald, bio-medical waste solely related to COVID-19, which was around 100 kg per day till February, touched over 1050 kg per day in May due to the surge in cases. It was but natural as the rising number of cases, with patients in hospitals, Covid care centres and home isolation would create waste that has to be managed scientifically. The question is: has it been so done?
Medical waste generated in hospitals gets treated as these health care establishments have to abide by the protocols laid down by the pollution authorities. It is the unscientific disposal of tonnes of COVID-19 bio-medical waste, collected from patients isolated at home, that is the larger problem. This can already be seen at Sonsoddo, as there are piles of this that have been left unattended for months as the agency appointed by the government has not lifted the bio-medical waste from Sonsoddo. The bio-medical waste from home isolated patients collected by Margao Municipal Council has been dumped in an isolated part of Sonsoddo from where it is to be picked up by an agency appointed by the government. The fear, voiced by residents of the area, is that the waste can cause major health issues and that workers at Sonsoddo could be hit. With the monsoon already here, this is a palpable concern that needs to be addressed immediately.
To focus solely on the bio-medical waste generated from home-isolated COVID-19 patients, as hospital waste has a different protocol, this waste could include masks, gloves, cotton swabs, bedding, medicine wrapping, and other that if not treated scientifically, but left in the open or burnt could lead to serious health concerns. Goa Waste Management Corporation has washed off its hands stating it is in no position to collect, handle and treat bio-medical waste in the absence of a common bio-medical waste treatment facility. The proposed facility at Kundaim may be operational later this month. What happens until then? Do the mounds of bio-medical waste keep growing as more is added to them?
Over the next few months, bio-medical waste from homes due to COVID-19 infection and home isolation is going to increase substantially if there is a third wave of the pandemic. Just as Goa is planning on meeting the expected third wave, the State also needs a plan to deal with the resultant waste. Even the masks used could be potentially hazardous waste as some of them, those not made at home and sold cheaply, would contain plastic or derivatives of plastic that if not scientifically disposed could cause a health hazard.
Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) admitted to Herald that dumping of bio-medical waste in the open or in water bodies leads to pollution and contamination, which is also dangerous to marine life. Managing the waste therefore is as important a task of the government as managing with patients. Sonsoddo is but an example, there could be more municipal towns and village panchayats that are facing hurdles in managing the bio-medical waste arising out of the pandemic. Curtorim MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, referring to the Herald report on Sonsoddo, has written to the Chief Minister asking that action be taken. Action should not be restricted to Sonsoddo but across the State.