Medical waste disposal become possible using plasma technology in Iran

June 17, 2019

TEHRAN – Using plasma gasification, Iranian researchers managed to dispose medical wastes and disassemble all its hazardous gases by filters, IRNA reported on Sunday.

Plasma gasification is an extreme thermal process using plasma which converts organic matter into a syngas which is primarily made up of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. A plasma torch powered by an electric arc is used to ionize gas and catalyze organic matter into syngas, with slag remaining as a byproduct. It is used commercially as a form of waste treatment and has been tested for the gasification of municipal solid waste, biomass, industrial waste, hazardous waste, and solid hydrocarbons, such as coal, oil sands, petcock and oil shale.

Considering numerous problems encountered in medical and urban waste management in the country, we decided to employ high technology to overcome them, Mahmood Quran-Nevis, an official with Vice Presidency for Science and Technology has said.

He went on to add that currently, autoclaves are used as waste disposal facilities in hospitals; the temperature of the autoclave is 130 degrees and most of the bacteria are not killed and subsequently they can contribute to various environmental problems.

Referring to the foreign countries reluctance to provide us with high technology machines, he noted that regarding the importance of medical waste disposal and disinfection, we managed to domestically produce the necessary equipment needed for healthcare waste treatment and disposal.

He went on to state that the Vice Presidency for Science and Technology, Plasma Physics Research Center, Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch, and some domestic companies have cooperated in this regard. 

The technology employs plasma torches which increase temperatures up to 1,700 degrees inside the reactor, disposes the waste and separates hazardous gases by a filter, he noted, highlighting, based on environment assessments the gases the device produce are completely safe having no harmful effects.

The remains are kind of compressed solid at the bottom of the reactor which can be used for the reinforcing buildings or making decorative items, he also explained.

Using this method dose not entail waste segregation, and all sorts of waste disposed can be disposed in the machine, while in the waste incinerator normally glass, metal and plastic must be separated before dumping the waste into the reactor, he also said.

Quran-Nevis also added that as a result, most of the bacterial contamination is not eradicated, and this is a big problem as it can infect groundwater or soil and result in production of leachate.

Due to the complexity of the technology used in plasma gasification plants it might be developed in the future, he stated, adding that, currently the plants has a capacity of 1 to 5 tons per day which can be increased in the future to dispose healthcare waste in greater number of hospitals nationwide.

He went on to say that designing plants with capacity of up to 50 tons per day also allows the energy output to be converted to electricity which can even be sold.

In the future, we can export the devices to the regional countries as well, he concluded.

Kiyoumars Kalantari, head of the waste management working group affiliated to Department of Environment said in July 2018 that some 115 tons of medical waste is being generated on a daily basis in the province of Tehran. He also regretted that despite the efforts made by the Ministry of Health, except for a few of the hospitals, medical waste is not being regulated in other health-care providing centers.

Deputy supervisor for Tehran City Council Afshin Habibzadeh also announced that some 60 tons of medical waste containing infectious toxic substances, is being stockpiled daily on Arad mountain in Kahrizak, southern part of the capital.

According to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, improper management of discarded needles and other sharps can pose a health risk to the public and waste workers. For example, discarded needles may expose waste workers to potential needle stick injuries and potential infection when containers break open inside garbage trucks or needles are mistakenly sent to recycling facilities. Janitors and housekeepers also risk injury if loose sharps poke through plastic garbage bags. Used needles can transmit serious diseases, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis.

Measures to ensure the safe and environmentally sound management of health care wastes can prevent adverse health and environmental impacts from such waste including the unintended release of chemical or biological hazards, including drug-resistant microorganisms, into the environment thus protecting the health of patients, health workers, and the general public.

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