ISLAMABAD - Improper disposal of waste and byproducts generated from number of private clinics and laboratories in the twin cities of Islamabad Rawalpindi pose serious health hazards. Health professionals said approximately 25 per cent of the total waste generated by health care activities is highly infectious, hazardous and toxic. The waste is disposed of as municipal waste without proper safeguards.

Sources said wastes and by-products covered a diverse range of materials. Infectious wastes, they said, included cultures and stocks of infectious agents, wastes from infected patients, wastes contaminated with blood and its derivatives, discarded diagnostic samples and contaminated materials like swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices.

They said instances exist where infectious and anatomic wastes, including body parts, had been recovered from garbage disposable sites. Most of the private health care practitioners dispose of their syringes, disposable scalpels and blades like normal municipal waste.

Cases have been observed where chemicals, for example solvents and disinfectants, expired, unused, and contaminated pharmaceuticals are just thrown away to be picked up by the municipal workers. The major sources of health care waste are hospitals and other health-care establishments such as laboratories and research centres, mortuary and autopsy centres, blood banks and collection services and nursing homes.

Wastes and by-products can also cause poisoning and pollution, whether through the release of pharmaceutical products, in particular antibiotics and cytotoxic drugs, through the wastewater or by toxic elements or compounds such as mercury. Additional hazards occur from scavenging on waste disposal sites and manual sorting of the waste recuperated at the back- doors of healthcare establishments. The waste handlers are at immediate risk of needle-stick injuries and other exposures to toxic or infectious materials.

According to health experts, occupational risks may be associated with the operation of certain disposal facilities. Inadequate incineration or incineration of unsuitable materials can result in the release of pollutants into the air.

The incineration of materials containing chlorine can generate dioxins and furans, which are classified as possible human carcinogens and have been associated with a range of adverse effects. Incineration of heavy metals or materials with high metal contents, in particular lead, mercury and cadmium, can lead to the spread of heavy metals in the environment.