KZN Dept of Health decides to halt incineration of medical waste.

Pietermaritzburg South Africa, 21 November 2002 - The KZN Department of Health is to be congratulated for taking a policy decision to halt the incineration of medical waste in the province. Instead the department will seek to treat and dispose of health care waste using environmentally safer, non-combustion technologies.

This announcement was made by Dr Sipho Msimang from the provincial department of health in a speech to the SA Institute for Environmental Health conference at Durban's ICC on Tuesday. This statement was confirmed yesterday in a telephone conversation with groundWork.

Dr Msimang also called for every health care institution to have a full-time, dedicated health care waste manager, who would ensure proper control and handling of all waste generated at the institution. This is something which groundWork has been advocating for in the province.

The department's policy decision to switch from the incineration of health care waste to cleaner alternatives, such as autoclaving, is in recognition of the very harmful risks posed by incinerators, including negative health effects, such as cancers and birth defects, which have been linked to emissions from incinerators.

Incinerators are believed to be the primary source of a class of chemicals called dioxins. Dioxins are believed to be the most toxic chemicals known to exist. They are believed to cause cancer, disrupt the hormonal system, weaken the immune system and cause birth defects. The findings of a recent study conducted in the Netherlands has linked dioxins to "gender-bending". This study, conducted over five years, links above-average levels of dioxins in mothers' breast milk to girl toddlers manifesting so-called masculine behaviour, and boy toddlers engaging in more feminine activities, like playing with dolls, tea sets and dressing up.

Thus the decision by the provincial department of health to start closing down its incinerators is to be supported. groundWork hopes that other departments, the other provinces and the national government will follow this leading example by the KZN government.