BCM investigates medical waste company

BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya
BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya

A Gauteng-based waste company that is collecting medical waste from several hospitals, clinics and community health centres in the Eastern Cape is being investigated by Buffalo City municipality.

The company, Buhle Waste, which won a multimillion-rand health care risk waste management tender from the Eastern Cape health department earlier in 2020, has its East London base in the Woodbrook industrial area in West Bank, but there have been complaints from the public that there is no signage indicating medical waste is handled there.

Concerns have also been raised that Buhle Waste workers are not wearing face masks.

But the company, which is contracted for 36 months with an option of being extended for two more years, says everything is above board.

Earlier this week, DispatchLIVE found there was no hazardous waste signage at their main gate or buildings.

Medical waste was being offloaded from smaller trucks onto large trucks outside the main building.

A businessman, who works in Electron Street, West Bank near the Buhle Waste premises, contacted DispatchLIVE and said he was concerned about the safety of workers in the area.

“All I want is for this company to make it clear that they are using this firm as a waste site by putting [up] all the hazard signs, and everything must be visible.

“Currently they have nothing, you only see the big trucks and these one-ton bakkies offloading to the back of these trucks,” the businessman said.

On Tuesday, DispatchLIVE saw workers without masks washing one of these MAN trucks just after it had arrived at the site. There were no signs on the walls and perimeter fencing.

But on Thursday night, a sign had been put up on the wall of the building. The sign had the company’s name and contact details.

Buffalo City municipal spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said on Friday  the municipality had dispatched environmental officials to visit the premises.

“The preliminary report reveals that they  provide health care risk packaging to provincial health and collect the health care waste from all facilities.

“This waste is not stored in the facility, it is removed from a collection truck to a long-distance truck which takes it to the George processing plant,” Ngwenya said.

Ngwenya said the company was using a department of environmental affairs permit to operate.

“They have not engaged with the provincial department of economic development and tourism. We have advised them we will provide details of a person from waste management to engage with them.”

BCM had also requested to see the permits and waste disposal certificates.

“They will be providing such information via e-mail so that we can have paper trail. Our actions and consequences, if needs be, thereafter will be determined by those findings which will form part of the final report.”

In respect of the signage issue, Buhle Waste’s company business development manager, Thabang Sekete, said their signage was available and visible throughout their premises in accordance with legislation and regulations.

“In addition to the signage on the building, our trucks are all branded and highlight the nature of waste that we are transporting.

“Any indication that there is no visible signage is misleading and false,” Sekete told DispatchLIVE on Friday afternoon.   

Sekete also addressed the issue of workers seen without face masks.

“The only trucks that could be returning to our depot for washing would be delivery trucks that are for the exclusive delivery of consumables and containers for the use at hospitals. These trucks do not transport any medical waste and therefore pose no risk,” he said.

“If the vehicle was being washed, it was a non-contaminated vehicle and the use of PPE would not be necessary except in keeping with the lockdown regulations.

“If our staff were in contravention of the lockdown regulations by not wearing masks, we would appreciate the photos so that we can institute the necessary disciplinary actions against them.”

Asked if there had been any complaints from other businesses in the area about Buhle Waste’s operations, Sekete said: “We have received no complaints from other businesses. This is the first of its kind in our operations.”

He said Buhle Waste was required to operate in an industrial area given the nature of the work that it undertook.

“We handle all streams of waste and therefore we are obliged to operate in an industrial area as opposed to a commercial or residential area.”

He said local Covid-19 waste was collected and when the truck was full, the waste was transported to licensed treatment plants elsewhere. It has operated from the East London site from April 1.

Provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the company was awarded a three-year contract from April 1 to collect medical waste in the province.

Sekete said there was no incinerator in the Eastern Cape as yet.

“As per legislation, all anatomical and pharmaceutical waste is transported out of the province to be destroyed at incinerators.”

Buhle Waste operates three sites in the Eastern Cape. Two sites are in East London and Port Elizabeth where they have transfer stations, warehouses and truck depots.

The third site is a development in the Coega industrial development zone, where they have licences to build the first incineration plant in the Eastern Cape.

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