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Medical waste treatment, a severe threat to life in and around Palakkad

Mar 15, 2018

Medical waste treatment, a severe threat to life in and around Palakkad
Medical waste treatment, a severe threat to life in and around Palakkad | Credit: The Indian Wire

The healthy life of people living in the vicinity of a Bio-Medical waste treatment plant has become questionable. The plant, set up at Malampuzha, on the border of Puthussery was built on 14th of December to treat the medical wastes from various hospitals and clinical labs from Kerala. The offshoot of Indian Medical Association Kerala branch, IMA Goes Eco-friendly (IMAGE) claims it as an eco-friendly option to recycle and handle the biomedical waste. Contrary to its purpose, it has turned out to be hazardous for the environment and has made a lot of environmentalists and locals to hold placards against it.

Kinvallur Sasidharan, a retired government worker, says that the plant was supposed to be set up at Pudussery panchayat, a dry deserted land which is 7 km away from its current location. But it is placed on the border of Malampuzha for unknown reasons. The medical waste treatment plant extends about 24 acres and the waste from 5 chimneys flows through the southern part of it. During monsoon, it mixes up with the drinking water of Malampuzha dam.

As per the statistics, the medical remains from 6,897 hospitals and labs including 221 government hospitals, 1,042 private hospitals, 24 government labs, 2,417 private labs, 67 government clinics and 3,124 private clinics reaches IMAGE. In 2016, it rose to 8,498 firms. In a single day, 37 tonnes of bio-medical waste is being processed here. Other than the waste discharge, the plant consumes nearly 3600 liters of water per day from Malampuzha dam, leading to water scarcity in many towns and villages including Palakkad.

The existence of this plant has disrupted the healthy habitat of many animals in Western Ghats. Elephants and many other animals have left the mountain regions because of the release of toxic gases from the plant.

Accusations against the license

Sasidharan, who has been protesting against the functioning of the plant, has questioned the credibility of the license issued to run it. He has placed the following allegations against the permission granted for the plant:

  1. IMA has claimed that there are no water resources near the plant. But Malampuzha dam is a source of drinking water for millions of people.
  2. The plant is placed within 100 meters of the Western Ghats and doesn’t have the approval of the National Green Tribunal.
  3. The license is issued on condition that there is a safe way to dispose the sewage from the industry. The waste filled water from the reservoir has destroyed a lot of paddy fields nearby and the compensation for that has not been given.
  4. There is no legal provision for transferring medical wastes from 14 districts to the plant.

A big company named G.G.Multiclave holds the responsibility of dumping the medical trash in IMA. But there is no proper permission to entrust such a huge task to the company. Sasidharan strives to shift the plant seven kilometers away from the current area, to a dry land. He alleges that a drug mafia aims to pollute the water sources and cause diseases to people, which in turn will favor the sales of more and more drugs and medicines.

A former employee’s statement

A person who was earlier working in the plant has raised her voice against the medical waste treatment plant. She says that the workers inside the plant are not even provided safety boots while segregating syringes, organs and other medical discharges. Once, she got a syringe struck in her leg accidentally and the management provided a very meager help to recover from it.

The workers, striving the whole day inside the plant, are paid only 90 rupees as daily wages. All are from financially backward families and risk their health to earn their bread.

Many environmentalists and activists like Gopalan and Venugopal have been trying for years to expose the fraud happening in this case. Several steps have been taken to stop the hazards created due to the plant. But IMA President Dr E.K. Ummer has stated that there is not even a single drop of waste liberated from the plant and it is completely safe.