Hospital waste warning

The management and disposal of toxic waste by state hospitals is woefully inefficient and poses a serious public health risk, according to a damning report by Greece’s Ombudsman Giorgos Kaminis which was delivered to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and other high-ranking government officials yesterday. According to the report, the result of an investigation into six state hospitals across the country (including the Andreas Syngros and Aghios Savvas hospitals in Athens), there is no established procedure for the disposal of toxic medical waste and no temporary storage facilities allocated for such refuse. As a result, waste is often dumped into cardboard boxes and left in hospital corridors or inappropriate outdoor areas, the report said. Kaminis’s investigation also highlighted a significant lack of units for processing infected human waste (such as the urine and feces of patients with hepatitis) which is sent directly into the sewage system. The report reserved special criticism for the tendency of certain hospitals – including the university hospital in the Cretan port of Iraklion – to use antiquated furnaces to burn their waste, often without the appropriate license. Toxic medical waste is often not packaged properly when discarded, according to staff at Athens’s municipal incineration unit who complained to authorities after allegedly being pricked by used needles in mounds of refuse. The report also expresses concern about the emissions released by the incineration unit, as there have been no measurements of the atmospheric pollution these emissions may be causing. Another potential environmental risk is the allegedly unmonitored disposal of traces of silver and other heavy metals from hospitals’ radiology units. The Ombudsman has proposed the drafting of internal regulations to standardize the disposal of toxic waste from hospitals, the training of hospital staff in the safe management of such waste, the creation of temporary storage spaces for toxic waste in hospitals and the imposition of checks on procedures by the Health Ministry.