Shredding anti-radiation tablets costs waste firm

Waste firm UK Resource Management has been fined £4,000 after it sent hazardous waste to landfill mislabelled as shredded cardboard.

A Middlesbrough waste company has been fined £4,000 after illegally sending medical waste to landfill. The waste - consisting of out-of-date potassium iodate tablets - had been shredded, making it potentially dangerous to the landfill site’s workers.

Appearing before Teesside magistrates on 27 February, UK Resource Management pleaded guilty to transferring waste without an adequate description, contrary to sections 34(1) and 34(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It was also made to pay £3,112 costs.

The incident occurred in November 2006 when the company sent 28 1,000-litre drums to Alab Environmental Services’ Seaton Meadows landfill in Hartlepool. Seaton Meadows is licensed to take non-hazardous waste and stabilised non-reactive hazardous waste.

The containers were labelled as full of shredded cardboard, but a large part of the consignment was actually hazardous waste - a mixture of potassium iodate tablets and their packaging, all of which had been shredded. Some of the powder from the tablets was on the outside of the drums.

Potassium iodate tablets are kept by the NHS for distribution in the event of a nuclear accident. They stop the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine.

They are disposed of every 18 months, but should be kept out of contact with skin, and the dust should not be inhaled.

Alab Environmental refused the consignment and notified the Environment Agency.

In court UK Resource Management said that it had spent £10,000 correctly disposing of the waste once it had realised its mistake. It also pointed out that it had spent £2 million upgrading its site and improving procedures in the past two years to prevent a recurrence of the incident. However, this was not enough to escape the fine.

The company has been prosecuted twice before. Last November, it was fined £4,000 for an incident in 2006 when it allowed workers to clean out chemical drums without proper ventilation. That case was brought by the Health and Safety Executive.

It has also been fined in the past for incorrectly disposing of liquid waste on farmland.

The case follows a spate of recent fines for companies sending incorrectly described wastes to landfill. Eight firms, including Biffa and Veolia, were fined last year for sending such waste to the King’s Cliffe landfill near Peterborough (ENDS Report 395, p 62 ).