Medical waste from 160 hospitals and laboratories is piling up as the Shalamar Waste Management Company’s (SWC) incinerator, one of only three in Lahore, is to remain sealed for a further week.
Officials of the Environmental Protection Department sealed the incinerator on February 8 after seven SWC workers and two of Shalamar Hospital were arrested for selling used syringes, urine bags and glass medicine bottles instead of disposing them in the incinerator.
Shalamar Hospital Chief Executive Dr Rashid Ahmad said that the hospital as well as the police were investigating the alleged sale of used equipment.
He said the incinerator could not be restarted until the investigation was complete. He said that the EPD had accepted his request to extend the submission date for the investigation report from February 13 to 20, meaning the incinerator will not become functional before Monday.
District Officer (Environment) Tariq Zaman said he had to grant an extension for the investigation. “The Shalamar CEO asked us for more time as they are trying to investigate all aspects of the case,” he said.
Shalamar Waste Management Company director Junaid Habibullah is assisting the hospital and the police with their investigations, said EPD officials. They said that he had not been arrested because he was not on the scene when the nine suspects were caught selling medical waste. Habibullah was not available for comment.
EPD inspector Yasir Gul said the Shalamar incinerator had been overworked. About 9,000 tonnes of waste was transported to the incinerator daily, he said, with much of it being sold by the workers as the incinerator did not have the capacity to destroy all the waste.
Big hospitals like Surgimed, Shaukat Khanum and Doctors’ Hospital sent around 400 kg of waste to the incinerator each day, and labs and clinics sent at least 40 kg a day. This waste is now being dumped in backyards.
Zawaarul Hassan, the waste manager for 20 Chughtai Labs outlets in Lahore, said around 40 kg of waste is dumped daily at the back of their head office on Jail Road.
“We are running out of space. Besides giving off a foul smell, it can cause diseases if left lying for another week. I recently got some workers to burn some waste bags, but there are now too many to burn in the backyard,” he said.
Smaller hospitals have sought help from waste management companies at United Christian Hospital or AT in Kasur.
Sabir, the waste manager for three 100-bed Farooq Hospital units in Defence, Allama Iqbal Town and EME Colony, said that the Shalamar Waste Management Company had been ignoring his daily calls, while the company in Kasur did not have the capacity to handle more clients.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.