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Feature: Proper waste management for safer water

Baguio City (22 March) -- Just in time with the World Water Day celebration, Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia (HCWH-SEA) warns that water is the biggest victim of all improper waste management practices in the health care setting.

In the regional conference on mercury phase-out and proper health care waste management for the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Cristina Parungao, HCWH-SEA Program Officer for Promotions of Best Practices, cited indiscriminate dumping of chemicals on hospital drains, sewage systems and even canals combined with improper disposal of infectious wastes as factors that can worsen the water crisis faced worldwide.

"Imagine dumping all these chemicals from hospitals where they will go directly to our water system. Without the health care sector knowing it, they are causing severe health problems instead of curing it," Parungao said.

A recent study showed that pollution in the water system causes the feminization of male fish or for the male fish to have both male and female attributes. The "intersex" male fish produces immature female eggs and have reduced rate of testicular development.

"The problem is that these chemicals are thrown by the hospitals without first treating them," Parunago pointed out.

The group is calling all hospitals to be responsible in the disposal of their chemicals by adapting waste water treatment or getting the services of a treatment facility that could do it for them. The process will remove wastewater of physical, biological and chemical contaminants thus making it safe for discharge or reuse back into the environment.

Some of the toxic chemicals used in the health care setting are methylacrylate, xylene, organic solvents, formaldehyde and cleaning and sterilizing compounds such as ethylene oxide, sodium hypochlorite, glutaraldehyde, and phenols.

"Most of these chemicals like glutaraldehyde are already banned but are still prevalent in many health care facilities in the country," Parungao commented.

"Add in broken thermometers, spilled mercury and throwing of infectious wastes in regular dustbins that are sent to landfills and open dumps. Garbage scavengers are automatically exposed to danger. But worst, these will all find their way onto the soil and into the water," said Parungao.

The group is likewise pushing for the phase-out of mercury devices in all Philippine health care facilities and institutions and working with concerned government agencies in setting-up a safe intermediate storage for the phased-out devices.

A 2009 research conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) concluded that clean water supply in the Philippines are fast deteriorating with rapid urbanization and that only about 33 per cent of river systems are still suitable as clean and safe supply source of water and up to 58 per cent of the country's groundwater are now contaminated.

The annual freshwater availability per capita is only 1,907 m3 compared to Asian and world averages of 3,669 m3/person and 7,045 m3/person, respectively.

The group recommends that hospitals treat their infectious wastes before disposing them.

"With the water crisis that the country and the rest of the world is facing, health care workers may start by conserving water in their facilities, doing their best not to contaminate what is left of our precious water and being more responsible by making sure nothing harmful stays and comes out of their facilities," said Parungao.

World statistics show that 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water while an estimated 2.5 billion people have no access to proper sanitation and more than 5 million people die each year from water-related diseases, most victims are children under the age of five. This is equivalent to one child dying every 15 seconds. In Asia, one in five Asians does not have access to safe water supply and one in two does not have access to improved sanitation. One in three Asians still has to walk at least 200 meters to fetch drinking water.

The theme for 2010 World Water Day is Clean Water for a Healthy World. The overall goal is to raise the profile of water quality at the political level.

HCWH is an international coalition of more than 470 organizations in 52 countries, working to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. (PIA) [top]

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