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Bank feels heat on waste incineration

15 September 1999


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A report launched in June condemns World Bank support for medical waste incineration. Burning medical waste produces dioxin, mercury and other toxic pollutants, and alternatives exist. Based on a survey of World Bank and IFC project documentation the international Health Care Without Harm coalition identified 30 projects involving medical waste incineration in 20 countries. It found that Bank documents

“imply that incineration is the only solution to medical waste disposal … not one Project Information Document reflects the real solutions – responsible procurement (eg avoid PVC plastic and mercury-based products), waste reduction, segregation, reuse and alternative treatment technologies”.

A 1996 Bank report on India’s environment recommended using alternatives to “imported incinerators that are expensive to purchase and difficult to maintain”. Yet soon after this a Bank project was approved with plans for hundreds of incinerators across India. This component has only been blocked because of public protests.

The report argues that:

“Promoting medical waste incineration in Third World countries at the same time that this technology is being phased out in the United States and replaced with safer and more economical alternatives perpetuates a double standard in which Northern citizens are afforded better environmental and public health protection than Third World citizens”.

The United Nations Environment Program is hosting negotiations for an international treaty to phase out the production and use of persistent organic pollutants, such as dioxin and furans which are produced by medical waste incinerators. The report also documents a worrying failure by the Bank to respond to NGO letters and invitations to present detailed evidence and proposals, whilst at the same time hosting a presentation by a leading incinerator company. It concludes by calling on the World Bank

“to immediately cease funding for medical waste incineration and to adopt a binding policy to prohibit the unnecessary incineration of medical waste in all future projects”

The World Bank’s Dangerous Medicine is on the web at www.essentialaction.org/waste/monitor.html or available from Multinationals Resource Center, contact ntangri@essential.org