The non-profit environmental health group EcoWaste Coalition today appealed to the authorities to recall or revoke an advisory, which if enforced, would allow the burning of COVID-19 healthcare waste in incinerators and crematories.
Through a letter e-mailed to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) OIC-Director William Cuñado, the group sought the immediate withdrawal of the “Advisory on Alternative Modes for the Disposal of Pathological and Infectious COVID-19 Healthcare Waste” issued by the EMB last March 26, which lists “thermal treatment by incineration” and “the use of crematorium” among the methods permitted.
EcoWaste Coalition President Eileen Sison pointed out in her letter that the advisory is not aligned with the spirit and intent of relevant laws, especially Republic Act 8749, or the Clean Air Act, and Presidential Decree 856, or the Code on Sanitation of the Philippines.
To explain her point, she cited the phase-out of incinerators for biomedical waste way back in 2003 in line with RA 8749. As stated in the Health Care Waste Management Manual published by the Department of Health (DOH), “incineration used to be the method of choice in treating health care waste. However, with the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1999, the use of this method is no longer allowed.”
Among the incinerators decommissioned were the so-called “state of the art” incinerators in government hospitals that were subsequently found to emit pollutants such as dioxins way above the standards set by the DENR, the group recalled.
“The DOH manual does not make any reference to ‘thermal treatment by incineration’ and ‘the use of crematorium’ for healthcare waste requiring disinfection and treatment,” the group said.
The EcoWaste Coalition also strongly objected to the use of crematories for healthcare waste disposal stressing that “crematories are not designed and constructed to incinerate trash.”
Under the Sanitation Code, “crematorium (is) any designated place duly authorized by law to cremate dead persons.”
“From our perspective, it will be unlawful to use a crematorium for waste disinfection and treatment. Allowing it will be culturally inappropriate and will be frowned upon as our society does not consider human remains as ‘waste’ and crematories as ‘waste incinerators.’ It will be culturally insensitive to cremate people who have succumbed to COVID-19 and other diseases in crematories where trash is incinerated,” said Sison.
“The use of crematories other than for cremating human remains may result in unwarranted delay in the cremation procedures for deceased COVID-19 victims,” she warned.
It would be imprudent to consider cremation as a disposal option as some crematories may not be operating in accordance with government regulations, the EcoWaste Coalition said, citing the suspension of operation of a public crematorium at the Manila North Cemetery in 2016 for various violations of DENR’s regulations, including the lack of valid Permit to Operate, as an example.
“In the greater interest of public health and safety, we urge the DENR and EMB to recall or revoke the said advisory without delay, and to duly consult and collaborate with the DOH and other stakeholders on matters affecting public health and the environment,” the group concluded.
Health care waste management experts Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, Merci Ferrer and Faye Ferrer have earlier assailed the EMB advisory as it “violates the law, undercuts safer and cheaper options, and poses a threat to public health and the environment.”
Copy of EMB advisory in question: