Residents of south Ambergris Caye are sounding the alarm about a situation they consider is detrimental to the health of many and could also pose a serious environmental risk if left unattended. Bio-medical waste – including red bags from doctors, from tattoo shops, from pharmacies and from the open air autopsies that are performed in the south end cemetery are being burned in the open air.
Ambergris Today did some investigating into the matter as concerned residents who live close to the new cemetery, south of town, have reached out to the authorities about this practice. The residents’ concern is that the fallout from these burns sprinkles over the surrounding neighborhood areas placing residents in harms way of dangerous toxins.
“Years later these residents who were exposed to toxins can fall ill from previously unheard of ailments that never before appeared on the island,” commented one area resident to Ambergris Today.
We spoke to Dr. Javier Zunia, Regional Health Manager of Central Health Region (Belize District and the Cayes) who assured that island residents should not be concerned about any health or environmental hazards due to the burning of this ‘Red Waste”.
Dr. Zuniga assured that the hazardous ‘red waste’ is properly collected, handled, transported, burned/disposed of with no potential danger to human health. The Ministry of Health collects medical waste from the Poly Clinic and all other private clinics on the island and is transported to the new cemetery located south of San Pedro Town. This is where it is burned at super high temperatures to properly kill all bacteria and harmful chemicals. After it is burnt, proper measures are taken to thoroughly sanitize the area.
“We take proper procedures and have trained the red waste handlers on how to properly dispose and burn it,” stated Dr. Javier Zuniga. “The waste is burned at extreme temperatures to properly kill all bacteria and the smoke is taken up into the upper atmosphere where it poses no health issues to island residents.”
According to Dr. Zuniga, this practice is not isolated to Ambergris Caye as many other communities around the country practice the same outdoor/isolated burning of medical waste. The only medical incinerator is located in Belize City but most medical waste from around the country cannot be properly transported for long distances. From Ambergris Caye, transporting over the water is not an option.
The ideal situation, he said, would be to purchase a medical incinerator for the island that will contain all the red waste and residue from burning, but until that is obtained for the town, this practice is the only way to get rid of the red waste.
According to Dr. Zuniga, the Ministry of Health and the San Pedro Town Council are aware of the situation and are working in building the proper facility and obtaining a medical incinerator to further correct this situation. This is where the town morgue comes into place; plans are for it to accommodate space for an incinerator. Mayor Daniel Guerrero indicates that funding for the morgue has already been allocated, the location for it will be at the new cemetery, the freezer is already on the island and that the Town Council is looking into obtaining the incinerator. Groundbreaking for the morgue building should be as soon as next month. Mayor Guerrero says it is a concern and that the Town Council is working hard in completing the morgue and has already started lobbying for the incinerator.
In the meantime, the Public Health Inspector has asked for assistance in obtaining hazmat gear for the employees that handle the red waste in order to protect their personal health.