Medical waste dumped

Medical waste found in Koffiepeer Street in Eastridge.

Mitchell’s Plain residents are outraged after a pile of medical waste was found on a field in Koffiepeer Street in Eastridge last week.

Decayed teeth, blood-stained surgical gloves and medical masks were among the items found dumped on Tuesday August 29 at around 5pm.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said the medical waste was removed the same day by a contractor appointed by the City of Cape Town.

Mr Smith said the matter has been reported to the City’s Law Enforcement and Environmental Health departments for further investigation.

Among the medical waste was a flyer of a private dental practice. The Plainsman contacted the practice and spoke to one of the partners who denied that it was their medical waste.

The dentist said they have been practising in Mitchell’s Plain for more than 30 years and have never had an incident of this nature. “We have a company that collects and dispose of our medical waste. That is not our waste, and we cannot take responsibility for it.

“We recently moved, so we think that perhaps we were set up. We find it very funny that the waste were found near the practice. Why would we dump our own waste on our doorstep? Doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The dentist said flyers advertising their services are given to patients when visiting and is accessible at their surgeries.

Monique Johnstone, spokesperson for the provincial Department of Health, said the disposal of medical waste is an environmental concern.

She said medical waste refers to clinical waste materials that are produced from healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, nursing homes, and research laboratories.

“These materials may include used syringes, soiled dressings, chemicals used to treat illness, equipment and facility chemical cleansers, and radioactive materials,” she said.

Ms Johnstone said medical waste is often incinerated. However, medical waste can be recycled as well. “Hazardous materials, such as chemicals or radioactive items, may require specialised disposal methods,” she said.

Ms Johnstone added that a lot of hospital waste contains potentially harmful micro-organisms, which in turn enter and remain in the air in the form of spores or simply as pathogens themselves.

“This often contains harmful chemicals such as acid, bleach or oil that should be disposed in approved, correctly labelled containers. Pollution may also come from people burning such waste as paper, plastics and other medical containers and materials.

“Such chemicals can build up in the ozone layer over time. Some garbage also release harmful gases such as methane, which significantly contribute to global warming,” she said.

Ms Johnstone said the medical waste was not from the local government medical facilities.

She said generally, the department has a four-year service level agreement with a medical waste company to manage the disposal of the medical waste material within that specific time frame.

Norman Jantjes, chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA), said it was disturbing and worrying to see medical waste dumped in a residential area.

Mr Jantjes was at the site where the medical waste was dumped. “This is very worrying, we all know the dangers of medical waste. There are strict regulations around medical waste, so why was it dumped in the open.

“This must be investigated, so that this does not occur again. My main concern is that children could have messed around with it, gotten hurt or it could have affected their health. People walk up and down during the day and night. So, our community’s health is also at risk,” he said.

Mr Smith said poor management of healthcare waste can expose healthcare workers, waste handlers and the community to infections, toxic effects and injuries.

Ms Johnstone said advice to health practices is: “In order to prevent any environmental chemical damages and the spread of infections to the public, we advise that all medical waste materials be disposed of according to regulation and via a registered medical waste disposal company.”

Mr Smith encouraged residents to assist the City by reporting cases of illegal dumping.

Residents can report details about dumped material and request dumped material to be cleaned up (if it is not on private property) by contacting the City’s Call Centre on 0860 103 089, via fax to 021 400 4302 or via email to wastewise@capetown.gov.za