By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The hospital, which was held responsible for dumping medical waste that polluted a Benguet creek, begun cleaning it up on August 2 right after the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) directed it to retrieve every syringe and biological material that washed down the waterway in July.
Director Reynaldo Digamo of EMB Cordillera ordered the Baguio Medical Center (BMC) and Onofre Calam-ang, the contractor to immediately retrieve all medical waste for proper disposal during a technical conference on August 1. Residents of Taloy Sur village and the Mayor Ignacio Rivera offered to help in the cleanup operation.
Digamo cautioned that the medical wastes are hazardous therefore proper handling and appropriate protective gear is needed. He ordered BMC to provide the necessary protective equipment and conduct an orientation on the conduct of the cleanup and the handling of the medical waste.
On August 2, the BMC went to Barangay Taloy Sur to conduct an orientation for community volunteers. After the orientation, armed with tongs and donned with hospital gowns, community volunteers with hospital personnel trooped to the creek and started the cleanup drive.
But on August 4, village officials of Taloy Sur received a letter from the hospital saying that it would be better if residents only helped in guiding hospital personnel in the cleanup activity and not participate in the actual retrieval of medical waste.
In his letter, Dr. Saturnino Claridad the hospital administrator requested village officials to tell residents to leave the retrieval of medical wastes to hospital personnel for their own safety. The volunteers however, said it was alright for them that they continue to assist the hospital team.
It can be recalled that medical waste dug up from an old waste pit beneath the compound of the Baguio Medical Center (BMC) was mixed with gravel that was hauled for dumping to three private lots in neighboring Tuba town.
Runoff rainwater washed the waste down to the Bayacsan creek and pieces of medical waste were also reportedly seen in Tapuakan River, Pugo, province of La Union.
Digamo pointed out during the technical conference that the sooner the creek and the Pugo river are cleaned, the better for the environment, for BMC and its contractor. He explained that the penalty for polluting water bodies as prescribed by the Republic Act No. 9275 (the Clean Water Act) will be multiplied by the days the waterway was contaminated.
Digamo said they already submitted their reports to the Pollution Adjudication Board (PAB) that would determine BMC’s penalty. “The penalty ranges from P10,000 to P200,000 per day starting from the date of the polluted water’s testing until when the waterway is finally cleaned,” he said.
EMB concluded that BMC also violated Republic Act No. 6969 (the Toxic Substance, Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act) and Republic Act No. 9003 (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act) and several conditions in its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for excavating, transporting and illegally dumping hospital waste. # nordis.net