HCMC garbage collectors find going hard amid Covid

By Ha An   June 8, 2021 | 05:30 am PT
HCMC garbage collectors find going hard amid Covid
Environmental workers in protective suits disinfect bins of medical waste before they are transported to a waste treatment site in HCMC, June 4, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
On a sizzling hot summer day in HCMC, environmental workers in full protective suits drive into a trash dump at a Covid-19 field hospital.

Nguyen Thanh Phong, 35, drove the garbage truck while two others sprayed disinfectant all over it.

The trash was mostly medical wastes like masks and personal items generated by the over 200 patients at the hospital, all highly likely to contain the coronavirus.

The workers from the HCMC Urban Environment Company (Citenco) moved around 20 trash dumpsters, each with a capacity of 240 liters, into position for emptying into the truck. Within 15 minutes they completed the work. After another round of disinfection, the truck left for the waste treatment zone at the Dong Thanh landfill in Hoc Mon District about 20 km away.

The garbage dump at the Cu Chi field hospital is just one of dozens with medical wastes around the city that Phong and his colleagues have to clear every day, mostly in quarantine zones and locked down areas.

Since the pandemic broke out last year, their workload has doubled: They now have to make four trips around the city instead of the usual two. The team members have to wake up at 3 a.m. and traverse 200 km every day to pick up garbage to process them.

Besides, since the latest Covid-19 wave hit HCMC, they have had to stay at their workplaces to protect their families from the risk of infection.

At the end of each day they return to a shared room, call their families at around 9 p.m. before the lights are turned off, and sleep with newspapers for pillows.

Phung Van Cuong, 42, who works at a garbage incinerator, said he once saw a colleague pass out after having to work in a stuffy protective suit for 12 hours straight.

Every day the workers spend hours next to incinerators that routinely operate at 1,000 degrees Celsius. Many get dizzy, and some even pass out due to the incredible heat and the pungent smell of disinfectants.

The team in charge of dealing with medical wastes has around 70 workers. Each day they collect around 35 tons of trash from over 85 Covid-19 quarantine zones and some hospitals.

The trash is incinerated but the ash is buried in a separate location reserved for hazardous waste. The city’s waste processing capacity is only 42 tons, meaning if the coronavirus persists not all trash can be processed.

Ha Tran Nguyen Duc, deputy director of the environmental service branch of Citenco, said workers have been provided with protective suits as recommended by the Ministry of Health and told about coronavirus prevention measures.

Last week it urged city authorities to add workers collecting hazardous wastes to the priority list for Covid vaccination and said buildings should sort medical and non-medical wastes.

In the current Covid wave that started on April 27, HCMC has had 461 cases.

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