Lurking dangers in hospital trash cans

Hospital waste management in Greece is so deficient that it places public health and the environment in severe danger, a recent conference was told. Just one-third of hazardous medical waste ends up at the special incinerating unit at Nea Liosia, chiefly due to cost factors. The rest is either incinerated in aging units at the hospitals or is rendered inert by private companies and ends up in garbage dumps. As the TEE vice president, Manolis Drakakis, said on February 2, during the day conference «Hospital Waste: Danger to Public Health and the Environment,» the question of hospital waste management is suffering from serious deficiencies despite available funding and existing legislation. Of 390,000 tons of hazardous medical waste produced annually, he said, only 160,000 tons undergoes proper treatment. The president of the Union of Municipal Authorities in Attica (ESDKNA), Giorgos Mastorakos, said that the special unit at Nea Liosia can burn 30 tons of hospital waste per day, yet only receives 6 tons daily. ESDKNA has contracts for the treatment of waste with 72 hospital units – of which 50 are state-owned – charging 2 euros per kilo of waste for transport and incineration. Meletis Tzaferis, special secretary for the Health and Social Solidarity Ministry, said the whole question has to be examined as a whole, commenting that 2 euros per kilo was expensive. Private companies charged just 1.20 or 1.30 euros per kilo, he pointed out. Moreover, he said that a competition for the treatment of hospital waste would be held, while he promised that regular checks would be made on private companies responsible for safe waste sterilization. Waste within hospitals tends to be dumped together, with the result that the real bulk of dangerous medical waste is much smaller than what is seemingly produced. The bulk of waste, he said, should not come to over 15 tons daily nationwide; nevertheless, 70 tons are produced daily of which 17-20 come from Athens hospitals. «There is the feeling that the large bulk of contaminated and toxic medical waste ends up in ordinary waste bins or the drains,» said Stavros Koutsioubelis, of the state hospital workers union (POEDN). The president of the infections committee at the Kifissia Oncological Hospital, Georgia Margariti, spoke on the dangers, chiefly to hospital workers, from hazardous medical waste that could lead to infections of hepatitis, AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases.

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