Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Clinical Waste Disposal.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

36 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health when he intends to close the hospital incinerators located at St. Finbarr's and Cork Regional Hospitals; if the Southern Health Board is currently storing radioactive waste in the grounds of St. Finbarr's Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1164/94]

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

103 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health if a study has been conducted to establish the current best practices in European hospitals and hospitals in the United States in respect of modern safe waste disposal; if a study has been undertaken with a view to the implementation of alternatives at Irish hospitals; and the expected time frame for the implementation of safe alternatives. [19/94]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

146 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Health the action, if any, that is being taken regarding the unsafe operation of the current incinerator at Cork Regional Hospital and St. Finbarr's Hospital, Cork. [20/94]

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

158 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health when he proposes to make an allocation to Cork Regional Hospital in order that they can operate their waste management facilities; and the proposals, if any, he has in relation to the unsafe incinerators at St. Finbarr's Hospital, Cork. [17/94]

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

226 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health if his Department has a policy in relation to the incineration of medical waste by hospitals in the Dublin area; if so, if he will give details of this policy; the procedures currently in operation at Beaumont Hospital in this regard; if radioactive waste is being burned on site in Beaumont at present; if the hospital has any future proposals in this regard; and if this represents a threat to the health of the residents living in this area. [561/94]

Máirín Quill

Ceist:

230 Miss Quill asked the Minister for Health when departmental guidelines in the disposal of clinical waste will be published; and the action, if any, he will be recommending arising out of the recommendation of the report. [907/94]

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

235 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health if he will shut down the incinerators at the Cork Regional Hospital and St. Finbarr's Hospital in view of the injunction taken by Cork Corporation against the Southern Health Board in relation to the incinerator at St. Finbarrs Hospital. [1193/94]

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.

That was a long reply to a simple question.

To seven questions.

Will the Minister indicate when the incinerator will be shut down, as promised by his predecessor? Given the strategic plan and the other measures the Minister has announced it appears it will take five years to shut it down.

As the Deputy will be aware, I do not waste time in dealing with matters such as this. I am determined to ensure that the national strategic plan for waste management in hospitals will be implemented as quickly as possible. I expect a permanent solution to be found by the middle of next year at the latest for St. Finbarr's Hospital but I am not content to wait that long. I hope to put an alternative plan in place in the interim until a permanent solution is found not only to the waste problem at St. Finbarr's but at all other hospitals.

How much thought has been put into the formulation of the alternative plan to which the Minister has referred? Has agreement been reached with the hospital authorities as regards the efficacy of this plan and when does the Minister see action being taken along the lines suggested?

The comprehensive national strategy will have four components.

That is the worrying part.

Not only have we carried out an analysis but we have carried out studies of best practices throughout Europe and the United States. We have now reached implementation phase. I want to solve the problem of hospital waste not only in Cork but throughout the country. We have a framework in place to achieve this objective.

In relation to the radioactive waste stored in the grounds of St. Finbarr's Hospital, is the Minister informing the House that this is a safe procedure?

The expert authority is not my Department but the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. I asked it to reinspect and it has again said that the method is safe and conforms with its standards, which are in conformity with best international standards.