Nearly quarter of harmful waste dumped illegally

A Senate subcommittee on the environment is demanding improved regulations governing medical and infectious waste after reports that 22% of such materials is being disposed of illegally.

Subcommittee chairwoman Paradee Chongsuktanamanee held a meeting to discuss the problem on Thursday following revelations that medical and infectious waste, including used blood bags and syringes, had been dumped on public land in Surin province in May.

A private company hired by hospitals to manage their waste was fined as a result.

Ms Paradee said a stricter system was needed to manage hazardous waste to avoid putting public health at risk.

Rangsan Pinthong, director of the Waste and Hazardous Substances Management Bureau, told the subcommittee that Thailand produced about 220 tonnes of medical and infectious waste per day.

About 78% of that is disposed of properly, he said, by being put through incinerators operated by licensed private companies or state agencies.

The remaining 22%, however, is disposed of improperly, he said. It's either dumped on public ground or buried without proper seepage protection.

Despite medical and infectious waste accounting for less than 5% of total waste produced nationwide, it cannot be recycled due to the hazardous nature of the materials.

Mr Rangsan said there were only three privately operated sites nationwide authorised to dispose of hazardous waste.

The cost of infectious waste disposal at privately-owned sites usually ranges from four to 15 baht per kilogramme. At state-run sites, it costs five to 21 baht/kg. Many medical service providers think this is too much, Mr Rangsan said, so some opt for illegal operators who offer to take the waste at lower rates.

However, these illegal operators usually cut corners, leading to hazardous waste being dumped in public areas, Mr Rangsan said.

Pasit Sakdanarong, an adviser to Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong, said he would raise the issue with the minister to try and seek a solution.

Senate environment subcommittee member Boonsong Kaigate said an effective legislative framework is already in place to deal with the illegal dumping of hazardous waste. The problem is that those laws are not being enforced, he said. He urged the Public Health Ministry to employ waste management specialists at every hospital to solve the problem.

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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat