Masses of used syringes, masks, gloves, and gowns are streaming into Indonesia’s Cisadane River, following the collapse of the country’s Cipeucang landfill in late May.
A surge of medical waste has steadily accumulated at the Cipeucang landfill, southwest of Jakarta, since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic first broke out in Indonesia in early March. The pressure of the trash mountain eventually led to the landfill wall's collapse, causing 100 metric tons of waste to clog two-thirds of the 138 kilometer-long Cisadane River.
Beyond the harmful environmental impact, the pollution has the potential to affect the health of millions of locals.
Residents depend on the river for cooking, bathing, cleaning, and clothes washing — and local children use the water for playing and swimming. The river provides around 80% of the water supply for citizens in West Java, Banten, and parts of Jakarta.
In Indonesia, coronavirus floods Cisadane River with extra hazard: Medical waste https://t.co/dvGGObkRdM— The Straits Times (@STcom) September 1, 2020
Astri Dewiyani says she and other residents are now terrified their children will become infected with COVID-19 if they continue to swim in the water.
"I worry about the kids getting infected with COVID-19 when they swim here. I'm anxious,” she told news organization Now This. “That's why I always forbid my children from swimming in the river."
Mahesa Paranadipa Maikel, the Indonesia Society for Health Law chair, said the residents' fear is well-founded.
"If this medical waste spreads in the residential area near the river, then potentially this could pollute the water that is used by people there,” he told SBS News. “It can potentially create the conditions for the transmission of COVID-19.”
Following the Cipeucang landfill collapse, Indonesian Health Ministry official Imran Agus Nurali acknowledged the country lacked suitable infrastructure to safely process the 1,500 tons of COVID-19 medical waste produced every day.
Nurali vowed to implement new medical waste laws.
"A new regulation has just passed that includes guidelines around medical waste treatment in every health facility. We have been pushing for this regulation with help from the environment ministry,” he said, according to WION News. “Our concept is on a regional basis, so we will have an appropriate medical waste management system in each province.”
The South Tangerang administration, which oversees the Cipeucang landfill, said changes would also be made to ensure similar crises don’t happen in the future.
The landfill, which formally accepted around 300 tons of waste a day, will be closed, and a waste-to-energy plant will be constructed in its place. Upwards of 15-megawatt hours of electricity are expected to be created off 1,000 tons of waste per day in the new facility.
Construction will begin in late 2020.