Medical waste, bad for your health and bad for your rights, warns UN expert

A new UN report says the international community has to date paid little attention to the growing problem of medical waste around the world, especially in developing countries. The report was released in September 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxic waste Calin Georgescu.

“Some 20 to 25 per cent of the total waste generated by health-care establishments is regarded as hazardous and may create a variety of health and environmental risks if not managed and disposed of in an appropriate manner,” warns the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to report on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights.

Hazardous health-care waste includes infectious waste, sharps, anatomical and pathological waste, obsolete or expired chemical products and pharmaceuticals, and radioactive materials. Medical waste is often mixed with general household waste, and either disposed of in municipal waste facilities or dumped illegally.

A significant amount of chemicals and pharmaceuticals is disposed of through hospital wastewater.

In countries where no wastewater treatment facilities exist, effluents from health-care facilities are discharged directly in rivers and other water streams, and risk contaminating surface and groundwater resources used for drinking and domestic purposes. […] Because they are designed to have a biological effect, pharmaceuticals can also have a significant adverse impact on fish and seafood used for human consumption.

In his report, Mr. Georgescu makes a number of specific recommendations, including raising awareness of the human and environmental risks of hazardous medical waste, the development of a comprehensive international legal framework for medical waste management, and the replacing incineration of medical waste by more environmentally-friendly and safe methods of disposal, such as autoclaving.

Read the full report

Related web site: WHO – Healthcare waste management (HCWM) –

Source: OHCHR, 14 Sep 2011

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