CHINIOT-The incinerator installed at a cost of Rs50 million on the premises of District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital has been causing health hazards thereby irking the people of the adjoining areas.

Punjab government had received a donation for the establishment of 19 incinerators from Holland a few months ago. These were installed in various districts of Punjab by the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department in collaboration with Mediland, an NGO that was given the operational control of these incinerators.

One such incinerator was installed on the premises of DHQ Hospital which is located in thickly populated area. It was inaugurated by Punjab Health Minister Khwaja Imran Nazir on 17-10-2017 at a cost of Rs50 million. It was inaugurated by Punjab Health Minister Khawaja Imran Nazir on 17-10-2017.

The incinerator disposes of medical waste of districts Chiniot, Jhang and Bhakkar. However, the dense fumes emitting from the chimney of the incinerator causes serious concerns to the residents of locality as important public institutions like Govt Girls Degree College; Govt boys High School having over 3,000 students; Madrassa Fatehul Aloom, Judges Residential Colony; District Courts; offices and residences of DC and DPO; Highways Rest House and thickly populated Mohallahs situat within 500 metre radius of the incinerator.

On behalf of civil society and residents, Mian Javed Iqbal, the CEO of Chenab Welfare Society, moved a petition to Environment Protection Agency on March 22 seeking immediate stoppage of incinerator work due to its environmental effects on the local population.

The EPA assistant director sent hearing notices to DHQ Hospital medical superintendent and the CEO District Health Authority who did not submit replies to the notices and even did not receive the notices on March 29.

As a result, the assistant director inspected the site and found dense black smoke emitting due to incomplete combustion of the medical wastes which may cause hazards to environment and pollute the area, and he sealed the incinerator on April 3.

The health department then appealed to Director General EPA, Lahore to order to conditionally de-seal the device with commitment to improve the functioning of facility.

EPA AD Farhat Kamoka said that the incinerator was not complying with the Punjab Environmental Quality Standards as well as hospital waste management rules 2014 due to which it was sealed. Besides, dense smoke; the height of chimney which was roughly 10 feet should be 40ft above roof. The hospital waste management rules state the hospital waste is segregated and packed in yellow shoppers and burnt down, while its ash should be treated with Cyclone and wet scrubber and then it should be packed and dumped at any landfill site minimum 20 feet deep.

But the ash is thrown in common waste collection trolleys which dump it with regular waste at empty plots which may cause spread of infectious diseases, he added. An officer of EPA requesting anonymity said that the EPA had suggested the incinerator be installed at landfill site some 20 kilometer away to save the population, but the department was directed to shut mouth and not cause hurdle in its installation.

M Arsalan, Manager of Mediland, said that reason behind the malfunctioning of incinerator was that it was manufactured to treat solid waste. However, the staff of the hospital sends the syringes; blood and urine bags; drips and other material without emptying.

He claimed that the incinerator was eco-friendly and it burns the waste at 1200 degree centigrade where no germ can survive. “We have written to health authorities to train the staff to send us segregated and packed waste,” he added.