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08
Oct

Criminal investigation confirmed against waste contractor, HES


The Environment Agency has confirmed that Healthcare Environmental Services (HES), which services the NHS and operates six sites across England, has been found in breach of environmental permits. In addition to enforcement action aimed at clearing the sites, a criminal investigation has been launched.

 

The Environment Agency says it has found HES to be in breach of its environmental permits at four of its six sites that deal with clinical waste. The company has been found to have more waste on site than its permit allows and to be storing waste inappropriately. 

 

The enforcement action is aimed at clearing the excess waste from these sites and bringing the company back into compliance. The Environment Agency says it has taken a range of action with the company to bring sites back into compliance but HES has repeatedly breached permits and continued to operate unlawfully.

 

An Environment Agency spokesperson says: "We are supporting the Government and the NHS to ensure there is no disruption to public services and for alternative plans to be put in place for hospitals affected to dispose of their waste safely."

 

As part of the enforcement activity, HES's permit at one site has been partially suspended. This will prevent it from accepting any more incinerator-only waste in order for backlog of waste on-site to be cleared. The offending sites are not accessible to the general public and there is no risk to public health or the environment.

 

It is the company’s responsibility to clear its sites and operate legally. As the regulator, the Environment Agency has set out a timeline for clearance of the waste and is carrying out regular inspections at each of the company’s sites to monitor the situation.

 

In a statement on its website, HES says it has been highlighting the reduction in the UK's high temperature incineration capacity for a number of years. This reduction, it says, is as a result of ageing infrastructure, prolonged breakdowns and the reliance on zero waste to landfill policies, which take up the limited incineration capacity in the market. 

 

HES says this reduced capacity has been evident across all of the industry and has affected all companies. However, the Environment Agency reports that there is industry wide agreement that overall there is sufficient incineration capacity. Incinerator shutdowns do occur for maintenance, but this is mostly planned and companies should have contingency plans in place. In a recent audit of permitted sites dealing with clinical waste, the Environment Agency has found a high level of compliance with the majority of sites operating at the expected level or above.

 

The HES statement insists the company is working closely with its disposal sites to reduce the volume on site, whilst maintaining services. "We remain dedicated to dealing with this national issue that affects all waste management companies and facilities within the UK. HEG is dedicated to resolving this issue, as and when incineration capacity becomes available. In the interim, all our facilities are operating normally whilst we work with our various partners across the UK."

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