Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Written Answers. - Clinical Waste Disposal.

182. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health, in view of the fact that he stated that clinical waste incineration will finish by mid 1995, the reason the Waste to Energy company is still pursuing a licence for incineration. [2535/94]

190. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health his preferred options for the disposal of clinical waste; the number and location of hospitals currently storing or otherwise disposing of such waste; the method or methods of disposal in each case; whether he has satisfied himself that these methods are in accordance with health, safety and environmental regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2695/94]

Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): I propose to take Questions Nos. 182 and 190 together.

I informed the House on 12 October — Official Report Volume 445 No. 7, Columns 1551-1552 — that my Department had issued to the health agencies a health services waste policy and a strategic plan.

The policy document states that disposal methods should be appropriate, safe and hygenic and should be in accordance with the principle of best practicable environmental option. A group in my Department has been researching the options and has concluded that the options are incineration to a high environmental standard or use of the new technologies such as shredding and disinfection by microwaves, steam or chemicals. Whichever method is chosen the cost of equipment is such [1567] that a small number of plants is the best economic solution. Computer modelling of the problem indicates four treatment centres, two in Dublin and one each in Cork and Galway.

The precise option adopted for any health board area will be a matter for agreement with the health agencies in that area. My Department has written to the health boards and major hospitals proposing a strategic plan which will be the subject of discussion. The plan envisages four treatment centres, as stated above, employing one of the new treatment technologies, some operated by health boards and some by private contractor. This represents my preferred option, but, as I have said, the ultimate configuration of disposal facilities which will emerge from the process will be a matter for negotiation and agreement with the health agencies.

A company named Waste to Energy Ltd. has applied for planning permission and a licence for an incineration plant to deal with health care and confidential paper waste. The position as far as my Department is concerned is that this is a commercial undertaking and there is no commitment by the Department to send health care waste to it at this stage.

Health care waste, by definition, is waste which arises as a result of the provision of health care. As such it arises in every hospital in the country, in greater or lesser quantities depending on the nature and level of health care being provided. The detailed information requested by Deputy Durkan is not readily available in my Department. The general current practice is that the part of health care waste which requires special treatment is incinerated.

It is generally accepted that the present generation of hospital incinerators would not fully meet the stringent requirements of emerging EU Directives but I am determined that a successful outcome will be achieved in relation to the process which is currently taking place to solve the problem.