No change as waste sites come under major hazard rules

A legal dispute between the Government and the European Commission has ended with the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) being forced to issue proposals to bring waste disposal sites within the scope of legislation on major accident hazards.1 But the affair now appears to have been so much hot air because it appears that no disposal facilities will qualify as "top tier" sites under the legislation.

The background to the dispute was explained in April (ENDS Report 219, p 27 ). In essence, the British legislation which implemented the 1982 EC "Seveso" Directive on major accident hazards exempted any site which had a waste disposal licence. But in doing this the Government went further than allowed under the Directive, which allows such exemptions only if licensed sites are covered by other EC legislation which has the purpose of preventing major accidents. This is not the case with the licensing regime.

The HSC's proposed regulations would do two things. They would remove the exemption for waste disposal facilities from the end of this year. And they would set out a timetable for any disposal sites qualifying as "top tier" installations under the Seveso Directive to carry out the various duties required by it.

These duties include the submission of basic details of the facility to the Health and Safety Executive and the preparation of an on-site emergency plan by 1 April 1994, preparation of an off-site emergency plan by 1 July 1994, provision of safety information to the public by 1 October 1994, and submission of a full safety case to the HSE by 1 January 1997.

The Government's dispute with the European Commission initially centred on the exemption of ReChem International's hazardous waste incinerator in Pontypool from the major hazard rules. But it now transpires that neither this nor any other waste disposal facility will, in fact, be subject to the rules.

Detailed discussions between the HSC and the waste management industry about the implications of the Directive only began earlier this year. The outcome, according to the HSC's consultative document, is that no disposal facilities are likely to qualify as "top tier" sites because "dangerous substances are not liable to be present in the relevant qualifying quantities." Although they will be caught as lower tier sites, the statutory requirements in this case, the document says, "mirror duties imposed by other existing legislation and should not result in any significant additional costs."

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