Thinking aloud about medical waste
By Digoy Fernandez THE mention of waste segregation and the decision not to use incinerators for getting rid of trash just made me think of something unusual: Medical Waste. Many years ago, I used to go to daily mass in one of the country’s better hospitals because it was very near my office then. Until I bumped into a friend who also went to daily mass, sometimes in the same hospital chapel I would go to. My friend is in the insurance industry and is known as one of the more honest adjusters around, giving accurate assessments of fire and other damage in behalf of insurance companies. He asked me if I also had the habit of bringing my son to said hospital, knowing full well that this particular son was practically my shadow and companion in many an adventure and activity. When I answered in the negative, he said simply: "Good." And then, he explained why he thought bringing children to hospitals is not such a good idea. According to him, hospitals, by their nature and business, tend to provide safe havens for many dangerous microbes that, over time, have began to develop strong resistance to antiseptics and other cleaning agents. And, he stressed further, the worst places were most possibly the ICU units! Yikes! That soured me on ever visiting ICU units again, even for close relatives. I also remembered a proposal given to me by one of my foreign partners years ago touting mini-incinerators designed to get rid of what hospitals refer to as "Red Bag" waste. These are those used swabs, disposable linens, among others, that one tends to throw away after regular use in a hospital. The brochures stated that Red Bag waste tended to end up with other regular waste in landfills and wherever else waste is dumped. In our local milieu, that would mean that, aside from the filth and bacteria that a rag-picker would be exposed to, those who make a living from sifting through garbage would then be subjected to materials that could have come into contact with people with infectious diseases. Yikes, again! Unfortunately, the Clean Air Act and proof that incineration causes the production of poisonous dioxins scuttled any move in that direction. But I still wonder to this day if our local hospitals follow any specific protocol in the disposal of their Red Bag waste. I Googled this subject and found many ways recommended in the task of disposing of said waste. Thus, there is no shortage or remedies. One of them is to simply subject said Red Bag waste to an antiseptic bath (until I remembered the thought that many bacterial and viral strains may have developed resistance to such cleansing!), to the use of superheated steam to cleanse infected materials. In the US, the burning of some medical waste, especially body parts, is mandated by law. Here, we have no alternative but to use less controversial alternatives. Some quarters suggest that hospitals look into the possibility of examining their materials use and go for those that do not contain any possible toxic ingredients (e.g. mercury in thermometers since alternatives exist) or those that would turn into poisons when they begin to break down in landfills or dumps. This reminds me to check out my local hospital on their Red Bag waste disposal policy!
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