Agency sets technical guidance on regulating clinical waste

New guidance on regulating clinical waste from the Environment Agency is aimed at aiding the public, healthcare providers and the clinical waste services industry as health and safety issues within the waste management sector are the subject of more stringent control. In this special feature LAWE focuses on the latest developments across the field including the imminent introduction of new requirements in the transportation of clinical waste

New draft technical guidance from the Environment Agency on regulating clinical waste is now out for consultation. Steve Lee, Head of Waste Policy at the Agency, said: " This will be essential guidance for the Agency's staff. They will be able to provide a more effective and consistent service in this specialised area of waste regulation. The public, healthcare providers and the clinical waste industry will all benefit. Meanwhile we shall welcome their comments on the draft guidance."



The new guidance is additional to Agency guidance on waste management licensing and on the Pollution Prevention and Control regime. It covers:

  • waste acceptance and dispatch
  • waste handling and storage
  • validation and controls for alternative treatment technologies
  • emission and environmental monitoring
  • spillage control and site decontamination (including licence surrender)

Clinical waste issues
Key issues relating to the management of clinical waste and wider concerns of health and safety in the general area of waste and landfill operations are being addressed both by government departments and the industry itself.

IWM and the ESA both have specialist groups dealing with these areas , with IWM having established an e-mail network of over 100 healthcare professionals . The institute also runs workshops and seminars on healthcare waste topics. Pira also is running a new conference on the "Transport of Dangerous Goods for the Health Professional" at two venues in November - Nottingham (15 November) and Leatherhead (21 November). Details are available on 01372 802228.

The waste management industry and producers of clinical waste are preparing for the new regime which comes into force on 1 January 2002 which makes the use of approved UN approved wheeled bins and rigid containers obligatory. The Regulation require that from that date all healthcare risk wastes (Groups A-D) are contained in UN approved rigid packaging when transported on the road. The Sanitary Medical Disposal Services Association (SMDSA), whose membership includes leading clinical waste contractors and NHS Estates, has been briefing the industry on the requirements of the new transportation regime and other issues, such as the prospects for continuing to use landfill in the future for the disposal of certain wastes in the light of the EC Landfill Directive.

The main aim of the Directive is "to prevent or reduce as far as possible the negative effects of landfilling waste on the environment and human health. It will ensure that landfill sites across the European Union face strict regulatory controls on their operation. Environmental monitoring and long-term care after closure."

Landfill health risk report
Concern over potential risks associated with landfill sites in general, not specifically related to clinical waste disposal, was raised following a recent study by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) for the Department of Health, into the health of populations around landfill sites. SASHU looked at the rates of birth defects, low birth weight, stillbirths and of certain cancers in populations living within 2km of landfill sites. In the most extensive study of landfill sites anywhere in the world, the study group examined 9,565 landfill sites that were in operation between 1982 and 1997.

While the study found no increase in rates of cancer in the populations living close to landfill sites, there were indications of small increases in congenital abnormalities and lower birth weight in babies. There was no difference in the rate of stillbirths and rates of birth defects did not increase.

The SAHSU study says that is not clear at present that landfills are causing these effects and that other explanations are possible.
The research provoked a wave of reaction in the national media headlining the possible health risks posed by landfill sites, However, responding to the report, the LGA's Public Protection Committee urged caution against too hasty an interpretation of the suggestion that there were possible links between landfill sites and birth defects.

The ESA , after taking leading specialist scientific advice on the research and its findings, confirmed its belief that "The UK's regulated landfills are safe and that the SASHU report's key findings are consistent with ESA's view."

IWM, while supporting SAHSU call for further work to be undertaken in assessing health impacts of landfill sites, also urged caution when drawing conclusions from the report.


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