Closed, yet still menacing – is the former medical waste incinerator toxic today?

5.12.2018 - ACCRA
PHOTO: Martin Holzknecht / Arnika

The small red-brick shed is located in between the main building and the mortuary of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in the Eastern part on Ghana's capital. It was put into operation in 2004 and used for almost ten years to burn the medical waste until about five years ago. The toxic ash was piled just a few metres aside – openly with no isolation what so ever. According to former operator of the burning process, back in the days the ash stack used to be about twice the size, but the rains washed its significant part away eventually.

If you’d visit the site, you could see dozens of chickens running around, many goats and some dogs and larger lizards as well. However, people also live on the premises of the Korle Bu Hospital, just a few metres away from the ash dump. This is rather hazardous since toxic chemicals have been found in the environment here.

In 2016, a research article Heavy Metal Contamination of Soils around a Hospital Waste Incinerator Bottom Ash Dumps Site was published by the scientists from the University of Ghana.

“We anticipate that continuous exposure to heavy metals in ash and soil may pose direct health risk to waste workers at the incinerator site and unauthorized persons who come to the waste incineration area and remotely through the consumption of exposed plants and animals that may have accumulated heavy metals in their tissues and water sources contaminated with heavy metals or by the inhalation of heavy metal laden dust from polluted soils or ash,” the conclusion of the research states. [1]

See Arnika's photos: A shut down medical waste incinerator at Korle Bu hospital


The already proven contamination of the remaining residues may affect the people even today. The ash most likely contains some other harmful chemicals such as brominated and chlorinated dioxins, PCBs and brominated flame retardants which can be easilly passed on through food chain.

The incinerator is no longer being used. Nowadays, the biological and often harmful medical waste gets dumped on a landfill in the hospital area just across the road from the building. Yet the potentially toxic ash pile remains.

"We don't think landfill is good replacement unless hospital has also an autoclave for example. This technology has proven during ebola epidemy in Africa," expressed his opinion Jindrich Petrlik, Executive Director of Arnika - Toxics and Waste Programme.

 


 [1] ADAMA, M. et al. Heavy Metal Contamination of Soils around a Hospital Waste Incinerator Bottom Ash Dumps Site. Legon, Ghana, 2016. Research article. University of Ghana. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2016/8926453/

 

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