Management of medical and hazardous waste in the emirate of Abu Dhabi

The world was not ready for a pandemic – Covid-19, be it the Healthcare sector or Waste Management sector.. The healthcare sector had the challenge of high volume of facilities including the intensive care units (ICU), beds, etc., as well as large volume of consumables like personal protective equipment (PPE), etc.

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Waste Management
April 21 2021
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Rotary Kiln Incinerator at Al Ain, Cleanco Waste Treatment LLC

Similarly, the waste management sector faced the challenge of proper handling and treatment of high volumes of highly infectious medical waste including the consumables used by healthcare professionals and patients. Further, large volumes of contaminated waste generated from quarantine facilities were also to be treated. The Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre (Tadweer) sprang into action by deploying the already available incineration facilities, including the standby incinerators, and procuring mobile incinerators within a short period of time to take up the challenge.

Dr. Udayan Banerjee and Eng. Abdul Mohsin Mubarak Al Katheeri highlight the issues and significant measures undertaken by Tadweer to deal with these complex waste streams.

Improper treatment and disposal of medical waste poses serious hazards of secondary disease transmission due to exposures to infectious agents among waste handlers/waste workers, healthcare workers, patients, and the community in general to where waste is temporarily stored and finally improperly disposed. Similarly, the hazardous waste not only poses serious health hazard to the waste handlers/waste workers and the community at large, but a very serious adverse impact on the environment.

Medical waste includes pathological waste (including but not limited to tissues, blood, etc.), other infectious waste, pharmaceutical waste including cytotoxic waste, sharps (including needles, blades, surgical equipment, etc.), hazardous chemical waste including residues,radioactive waste, etc. Pathological and infectious wastes are supposed to contain pathogens (diseasecausing bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi), in effective concentration or quantity to cause disease in vulnerable hosts that may get exposed to the same.

There is no single solution that is recommended for treatment of medical waste to mitigate the potential hazards. Universally several technologies are in practice, however the selection of technology for destruction and decontamination is primarily focused at mitigating the potential hazards as well as considering the local factors. Certain technologies, such as incineration, for example, is considered effective when equipment is well maintained and is operated in the context of strict monitoring, regulatory compliance and surveillance. At the same time a poorly maintained incinerator or pushed to run beyond the design parameters, could be potentially hazardous. The UAE Federal Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has set out regulation (ministerial decree No. 37 of 2001), which stipulates primarily use of incineration as treatment of medical waste other than the radioactive waste, which needs to be handled separately.

Other than incineration, some medical waste treatment facilities use autoclaving. However, the sterilized material is finally required to be disposed in sanitary landfill. In the context of UAE, it is a dual regulatory requirement, one as per the ministerial decree No. 37 of 2001 and the second as per the UAE National Agenda 2021, which has set out the target for waste diversion away from the landfills.

In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre had an incinerator for medical waste in Al Ain since 2009, which would only cater to the medical waste generated in the Al Ain region. On the other hand, the medical waste generated in the Abu Dhabi region and Al Dafrah region, were being traditionally managed by private environmental service providers, who were using either some thermal treatment but not autoclaving or treatment with hydrated lime. Both the technologies were non-compliant to the regulatory requirements. Also, once treated the waste was to be landfilled, which was against the target set out by UAE Agenda 2021.

Rotary Kiln Incinerator at Abu Dhabi, Al Ahalia Waste Treatment LLC

In the pre Covid-19 stage, the emirate of Abu Dhabi, was generating about 6,000 tons of medical waste per annum. Additionally, there has been a significant quantity of incinerable hazardous waste, which either was exported out of the country or illegally mixed with nonhazardous waste and dumped in the landfills. To address the issue, Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre as part of the Integrated Waste Management Master Plan, decided to establish rotary kiln incinerators of sufficient capacity, that would be able to safely incinerate both medical as well as incinerable hazardous waste.

Accordingly, Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre, invited investors through a competitive bidding process to design, build, own and operate three Rotary Kiln Incinerators. In Abu Dhabi, Al Ahalia Waste Treatment LLC and Cleanco Waste Treatment LLC have established two rotary kiln incinerators each with a designed capacity of 1.5 tons/hour. These two facilities are catering to the Abu Dhabi and Al Dafrah regions. In Al Ain region, in addition to the existing medical waste incinerator another rotary kiln incinerator of a designed capacity of 0.5 tons/hour has been established by Cleanco Waste Treatment LLC.

Mobile Medical Waste Incinerator, Tadweer

All the three rotary kiln incinerators are designed to incinerate both medical and hazardous waste, and are accordingly equipped with state of art air pollution control devices as well as continuous emission monitoring system (CEMS), which are directly linked to the online monitoring network of Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi. This robust system ensures compliance of emission standards. Also, Abu Dhabi has hazardous waste stabilization units to efficiently manage nonincinerable hazardous waste, which is stabilized tested for leachability and disposed in engineered landfill.

The potential hazard of the medical waste has increased multi-fold with the global Covid-19 pandemic. The European Commission issued guidelines for waste management in the context of the coronavirus crisis, which requires waste from cleaning of healthcare facilities to be treated as infectious medical waste. Several countries have formally stipulated that general waste produced by patients with infectious diseases and by people in the quarantine facilities to be treated as medical waste.

Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre had quickly responded to the challenge of additional burden of the medical waste generated from Covid-19 treatment and quarantine facilities, by deploying the already available incineration facilities, including the standby incinerators (to be used during maintenance of main rotary kiln incinerators), as well as procuring and commissioning three mobile medical waste incinerators equipped with proper air pollution control devices. Hence, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has efficient mechanism in place to manage its medical and hazardous waste.

Dr. Udayan Banerjee is Policy & Legislation Specialist and Eng. Abdul Mohsin Mubarak Al Katheeri is Director Projects & Facilities Department at Abu Dhabi Waste Management Centre – Tadweer.


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