A criminal investigation is underway after hundreds of tonnes of medical waste, including human body parts, were allowed to pile up at a disposal site.
Campaigners said they had warned authorities about Healthcare Environmental Services’ (HES) medical waste disposal site in Normanton, which reached five times its capacity last month .
Human body parts found among 350 tonnes of NHS waste allowed to pile up at Wakefield site by disposal company
The Health Service Journal reported that the site had 350 tonnes of waste were being stored at the site – its limit is 70 tonnes. Campaigner Paul Dainton, whose Residents Against Toxic Scheme (RATS) campaign group has battled on environmental issues for 20 years, said he warned of the risks at the Loscoe Close site in 2011 when planning permission was approved. RATS has also fought against the Welbeck Landfill Site and argued the town is being taken advantage of for waste disposal.
He said: “We stood outside of HES building when it opened and warned them about what might happen and how Normanton would be taken for a ride, but no one listened. Between this and Welbeck tip, Normanton has become a dumping ground for anything that nowhere else in the country will accept.”
When the HES facility was approved Mr Dainton warned that regulations may not be followed. He said: “To say these regulations are in place is nonsense unless they are enforced.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said there was “absolutely no risk” to public health and believed the waste was stored securely, but was not being processed and disposed of within the correct regulatory timeframes.
But Mr Dainton questioned how the health risks could be properly assessed. He said: “How can they say there is no risk there is waste left out there for days and days after it has been transported here? How can they possibly know?”
READ:‘We warned you’ say Normanton campaigners after human body parts pile up at medical waste site
HES operate the private waste disposal site in Normanton and the Environment Agency (EA) monitors and regulates the business.
The firm said the UK had experienced “reduced incineration capacity” over the last year, which it had repeatedly highlighted to authorities.
An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: “The Environment Agency has found Healthcare Environmental Services to be in breach of its environmental permits at five sites which deal with clinical waste.”
The EA confirmed it was taking enforcement action against the operator, which included the clearance of the excess waste, and that it has have launched a criminal investigation.
It also said it was supporting the Government and the NHS to stop disruption to public services and for alternative plans to be put in place for hospitals affected to dispose of their waste safely.
A Government spokesman said: “We are monitoring the situation closely and have made sure that public services – including NHS Trusts - have contingency plans in place.
“There is absolutely no risk to the health of patients or the wider public.”
It is understood a meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency committee, was held last month over the issue.
A spokesman for Healthcare Environmental Services said: “Healthcare Environmental has highlighted the reduction in the UK’s high-temperature incineration capacity for the last few years. This is down to the ageing infrastructure, prolonged breakdowns and the reliance on zero waste to landfill policies, taking up the limited high-temperature incineration capacity in the market. “Over the last year, this reduced incineration capacity has been evident across all of the industry and has affected all companies.”
While Wakefield Council has no statutory powers relating to the regulation of the site it does monitor air pollution across the district. It said there were no concerns about air pollution in the vicinity of the HES facility but would continue monitoring the situation. Waste management firm Renewi has a contract with the council to dispose of its clinical waste.
Glynn Humphries, service director for environment, streetscene and property at Wakefield Council, said the firm was speaking to the EA about how to deal with the waste affected by the recent enforcement action at HES. He said: “Renewi has given us assurance that they will do all in their power to ensure there is no negative impact on our clinical waste disposal and that the waste will be managed safely and efficiently.”
Trust rips up waste firm contract
The NHS trust that runs Pinderfields and Pontefract hospitals ditched its contract with a crisis-hit waste disposal firm.
A Department of Health list showed that the 15 trusts – including Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust – that scrapped their contracts with Healthcare Environmental Services were all based in Yorkshire.
The decisions followed a criminal investigation being launched by the Environment Agency (EA) and restrictions being placed on the HES’ Normanton site.
A statement was given to parliament that said fifteen trusts formally cancelled their contracts with HES on Sunday and, from Monday morning, facilities management company Mitie took over their waste disposal services.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government’s handling of the situation after the EA first told Ministers about issues with HES on July 31.
He said: “My clear goal throughout has been to make sure that the public are safe and also that NHS services can continue. We have secured those goals.
“We have now moved the contract away from the company that was failing to deliver, we have got a new company in and that’s the point at which we could go public about this issue.”
The HES site at Loscoe Close recorded 350 tonnes at one point during September, the Health Service Journal reported. This is five times more than the company’s 70 tonne limit, and a small proportion of the waste is believed to have been human body parts.
HES collects around 584 tonnes of “incineration-only” waste and 1,972 tonnes of non-hazardous waste per month from trusts across its facilities in the UK. Waste can include discarded blood and used medical supplies, including needles, swabs, bandages, dressings, and gloves that have been in contact with bodily fluids.
Mark Braden, from the trust, said: “We would like to take the opportunity once again to reassure our patients that there is no disruption to clinical service.”