The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996) provides that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being. However, the illegal dumping of health care risk appears to be a challenge in South Africa. health care risk waste (HCRW) poses a danger; not only to the health of scavengers who are directly exposed to it, but also to the environment when pollutants migrate into water sources and ultimately cause widespread infection and toxicity. To give effect to the Constitution, the safe disposal of hazardous waste is governed by legislation. ‘However, constant findings of illegal disposal of waste suggest a general lack of awareness and training in this sector’ (World Health Organisation (2011. According to the Hazardous Substances Act, (1973), waste is classified as general or hazardous waste according to the risk it poses. ‘General waste is defined as waste which does not pose a significant threat to public health or the environment. Hazardous waste; however, has the potential, even in low concentrations, to have a significant adverse effect on public health and on the environment’ (Hazardous Substances Act, 1973). According to the Health Care Risk Waste (HCRW) Management Regulations of 2008, health care risk waste is defined as that hazardous portion of healthcare waste which primarily consists of infectious waste; waste that may contain pathogenic micro-organisms, sharps; which includes sharp and pricking objects that may cause injury as well as infection, pathological waste includes parts that are sectioned from a body, chemical waste includes all kinds of discarded chemicals, including pharmaceuticals that pose a special risk to human health and environment. Looking at the definition of hazardous waste, it can be said that health care risk waste has the potential to become hazardous.
According to the World Health Organisation (2011), it is estimated that there is about 45 000 t of healthcare risk waste generated annually in South Africa. ‘There is a perception that there is insufficient capacity to treat the amount of the waste produced and this results in illegal storage and dumping,’ states Jewaskiewitz (2009), adding that a number of cases of illegal dumping have been reported in the media over the last five years or so. Illegal dumping is defined by Jewaskiewitz (2009), as the unlawful act of discarding waste in an improper manner, where it does not belong and where environmental damage is likely because of the improper disposal. Jewaskiewitz (2009) further mentions that ‘there are still some major cases of illegal dumping being prosecuted by the authorities going back some four to five years’ ,arguing that tender irregularities and fraud are also regularly being cited as the cause for many of the problems and challenges facing the healthcare risk waste industry. The reason behind the risk of the healthcare waste results when the waste has a potential to cause danger or possible loss or injury. According to the Draft Health Care Risk Waste Management Regulations (2012), a generator of waste refers to a person; including healthcare practitioners and facilities, whose actions or activities result in healthcare risk waste. ‘Any generator of waste has a duty of care to society; to handle, store, transport or dispose of waste in an environmentally sound way’ (National Environmental Management: Waste Act No. 59 of 2008).This is according to the National Environmental Management Act No. 107 of 1998 referred to as the cradle-to-grave responsibility since it lasts throughout the whole process of waste disposal. The World Health Organisation (2011) states that the major sources of healthcare risk waste are hospitals and other healthcare establishments, laboratories and research centres, mortuary and autopsy centres, animal research and testing laboratories, blood banks and collection services, nursing homes for the elderly. In this assignment, a closer look will be given to what are the causes of illegal dumping. The significance and degree of concern in South Africa will also be explored, as well as what the impacts of illegal dumping are with specific reference to health, the environment and the economy.
What causes illegal dumping of healthcare risk waste?
The South African Government News Agency (2012) reported that illegal dumping occurs when a person or business discards waste where it does not belong rather than disposing of it through proper channels, through a licensed waste hauler, recycler or permitted landfill. The report further elaborated that this often occurs because proper disposal is too convenient; the perpetrator does not want to pay the disposal fee or does not take the time to prepare the material for proper disposal. ‘In most cases the problem starts with the lack of awareness by different sized healthcare risk waste generators from both the public and private sector in terms of the risks associated with HCRW management as well as the duty of care principle’ (Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, 2008). This problem is evident from large HCRW generators all the way down to patients on home based care. (The South African Government News Agency (2012) argues that lack of cooperation by departments of Public Works that continue to install onsite HCRW incinerators at health care facilities without Environmental Impact Assessments being undertaken ends up in dire states. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (2008) reported that one of many causes of the illegal dumping of HCRW is the inappropriate and financially viable HCRW management systems for rural communities where relatively small volumes of HCRW are generated and long transport distances to treatment facilities are involved. It has also been mentioned that what encourages the illegal dumping of such waste is the lack of appropriate HCRW treatment facilities located in accordance with HCRW generation patterns throughout South Africa; as well as appropriate and readily accessible facilities for the disposal of treated HCRW residues (Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, 2008).
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