By KYLE EDWARD FRANCISCO
VIGAN CITY, Ilocos Sur – Environmental advocates in the province expressed their concern and urged the Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur (PGIS) to close a medical waste disposal site in Barangay Paing, Bantay.
Caritas Nueva Segovia (SAC) and the Ilocos Network for the Environment (Defend Ilocos) claimed that the site poses both environmental and health threat to the area. The dumpsite is used by the Metro Vigan Cooperative Hospital (MVCH), one of the prominent private health care providers in the province.
Guidelines on medical waste disposal
According to the World Health Organization, about 85% of the entire waste generated in health services are general and non-hazardous while the remaining 15% are hazardous or potentially infectious, toxic and radioactive. However, garbage from hospitals usually contain microorganisms that can be harmful to the public and may release pollutants when not dispose properly.
In the Philippines, hospital waste disposal is governed by Joint Administrative Order No. 2 Series of 2005 (JAO No.02-2005) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Department of Health (DOH). The order is pursuant to Philippine environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act of 1999 (RA 8749) and the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (RA 9003) among others. Both laws explicitly prohibits the burning of waste and requires the utilization of appropriate waste management technology and techniques in the handling of garbage.
The issuance specify procedures “to generators, transporters and owners or operators of treatment, storage, disposal (TSD) facilities” on the appropriate process of “handling, collection, transport, treatment, storage and disposal” of health care waste.
The document also delineates the “jurisdiction, authority and responsibilities” of the two agencies with regard to managing waste generated by hospitals. It requires health care waste generators, transporters and TSD facility operators to acquire documentary requirements such as permits and licenses from DENR and DOH.
Dump Site Inspection
Members of the media and Caritas Nueva Segovia led by its Executive Director Sr. Lilian Carranza called the attention of PGIS on the issue, which prompted the DENR Provincial Office to undertake an ocular inspection on December 14 with Sr. Carranza’s office.
Based on a report made by Florencio Soliven, Community Environment & Natural Resources Officer (CENRO), the group saw hospital waste dumped and burned in violation of R.A.’s 8749 and 9003. Barangay Captain Roger Paet admitted to the group that he has a contract to accommodate MVCH’s waste except for needles. The group also saw garbage being buried near the banks of the Abra River and main canal of the Banaoang Pump Irrigation System.
Sr. Carranza said that she appreciates the immediate action of the provincial government and CENRO and hopes that the site is closed immediately and all responsible parties be made accountable.
Failure of Solid Waste Management Act
Sherwin De Vera, Regional Coordinator of Defend Ilocos said that this issue reflects the failure of the government to take the solid waste management issue seriously. He noted that 15 years after the enactment of the R.A. 9003, local government units (LGU) still lack comprehensive waste management plan because of their meager resources and absence of support from the national leadership.
“We only have a handful of waste disposal facilities in Ilocos, only one with engineered landfill and 27 with controlled landfills out of the 77 LGUs based on the 2011 DENR-I records,” cites De Vera.
He also pointed out that the law has utterly failed in terms of curbing the threat of solid and hazardous waste pollution, including the increasing volume of medical waste generated in the country.
“While environmental laws in the country such as RA 9003 are full of loopholes and is dysfunctional, there are still provisions that can be utilized to at least minimize environmental damage. Its functionality and usefulness depends on the kind of local governance and the vigilance of the people,” explains De Vera.
He also expressed alarm that a local government official and a health institution are involved in the issue. De Vera said that in principle, local officials and health institutions should know that there are proper methods of disposing waste – not simply burning and burying them along the river banks. His group also called on PGIS to conduct regular monitoring of waste management procedures of businesses and health care facilities in the province.
“This shows that businesses, including hospitals sometimes opt for shortcuts to waste management that are usually dirty and illegal and in favor of profit. Worst, to be able to do this, there usually are corrupt officials who are willing to do away with the law,” adds De Vera.
De Vera said that now that the issue is out, the greatest challenge is for the people to push for accountability and a practical and safe waste management system in the province. # nordis.net