I propose to take Questions Nos. 36, 103, 146, 158, 226, 230 and 235 together.
I am sure Deputies will appreciate that waste disposal in the health services in a manner that is safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective has become a very difficult problem to resolve. I am, therefore, very glad to inform the House that considerable progress is being made in tackling this problem, although there are still many difficulties to be overcome, not least in the technical field. We are now breaking new grounds in the proposals which I am about to outline and continuing vigilance will have to be exercised by everyone involved to ensure that the anticipated satisfactory results are achieved.
The approach of my Department to solving the problem of disposal of health care waste is one which has four stages: putting in place an environmentally conscious health care waste policy; examination of the technical and organisational options for the treatment and final disposal of health care waste; preparation of a strategic plan for an integrated system for the treatment and final disposal of health care risk waste on a nationwide basis and implementation, following consultations, of the strategic plan.
The first stage has been completed and the policy document has been issued to health agencies. The policy promotes good waste management practices including prevention, reduction and segregation as well as the preparation of waste management plans by each hospital. My Department has carried out studies of best practices in management of health care waste in European hospitals and of final disposal methods used both in Europe and the United States. A trial of one of the new disposal methods was carried out recently at Beaumont Hospital.
Following these studies and trial, a strategic plan for an integrated system for the treatment and final disposal of health care risk waste has been circulated to the health agencies. The plan proposes four central treatment facilities nationally, two in Dublin, one in Cork and one in Galway, utilising one or more of the new technologies.
Implementation of the plan, which will take place as soon as possible following the necessary consultations, implies phasing out of the existing old hospital incinerators such as those at St. Finbarr's Hospital and Cork Regional Hospital. Pending the installation of the new technology in Cork, the Southern Health Board is seeking to make alternative arrangements as quickly as possible to enable it to shut down the incinerator at St. Finbarr's Hospital.
I have had inquiries made of the Southern Health Board into the storage of radioactive waste at St. Finbarr's Hospital. Low level radioactive waste is produced as a by-product of diagnostic tests in modern medical practice. Stringent controls are in place, monitored by the legislative authority, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland — RPII — to ensure safe handling and disposal of the waste. The waste is stored in concrete compartments at St. Finbarr's Hospital, in full compliance with RPII standards. The RPII was recently requested to inspect the site at St. Finbarr's Hospital and has confirmed that it is satisfied there is no risk to the public from the storage of waste material at the hospital.
With regard to Beaumont Hospital, the incinerator there has not operated for some years. The clinical waste from the hospital is segregated into infectious and non-infectious components, the former being incinerated off site by private contractors and the latter being sent for deep burial at a local authority landfill site.
There is no waste, radioactive or other, being incinerated on site at Beaumont Hospital at present and there are no plans to do so. A recent trial at Beaumont Hospital of one of the alternative disposal methods, the microwave method, gave valuable information as an input to the strategic plan.