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Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 09:29 GMT
'Human tissue' firm fined 100,000
Blood bags
Blood was seen dripping from lorries
A company which admitted leaving human tissue to rot in trailers all over the country has been fined 100,000.

Eurocare Environmental Services left human remains, including placentas, in unrefrigerated soft-sided lorries in car parks and other sites for up to five months.

It was fined 40,000 for polluting the River Dee in north Wales after pouring thousands of litres of clinical fluids, including blood, into a septic tank that leaked into the river.

It was also fined 35,000 for illegally storing clinical waste at sites in Newcastle upon Tyne and Birmingham, and 25,000 for other offences.

Eurocare showed a flagrant disregard for the law and public safety

David Stott, chief prosecutor for the Environment Agency

Eurocare was also ordered to pay costs of 114,818.

The company had pleaded guilty to 10 charges prior to the fine being handed down by a judge at Chester Crown Court on Friday.

The case followed an investigation by the Environment Agency which was triggered by an anonymous fax.

The fax said Eurocare had been storing clinical waste in unrefrigerated trailers for over a fortnight at two truck stops near Newcastle.

When officials visited the site, they found blood dripping from one of the lorries.

Eurocare, based in Newcastle, is one of the biggest hospital waste disposal companies, disposing of 45,000 tonnes of tissue and fluids each year.

It disposes of clinical waste for all hospitals in the north of England.

'Disgusting smell'

David Stott, chief prosecutor for the Environment Agency, said: "Eurocare showed a flagrant disregard for the law and public safety.

I don't think anything we did posed a risk to human health

Raymond Hawthorn, Eurocare
"Furthermore, the company's actions in causing serious backlogs of clinical waste to build up around the country could, eventually, have led to delays in patient treatment."

In court documents seen by BBC News Online, the agency said Eurocare dealt with waste coming from hospitals treating patients with "endemic and epidemic indigenous and imported infectious diseases" which could have been spread by a lack of proper disposal.

The Environment Agency investigation into Eurocare found breaches including:

  • On one visit, nine trailers were found - one unmarked, containing placenta bins and bags of human tissue used by South Tees Hospital. The ground was stained with blood. Another trailer had blood dripping from it and others contained razor blades and cancer drugs,

  • Twelve trailers found at Shepherd's Yard near Newcastle contained waste that was around five months old,

  • Sixteen articulated trailers were found, full of clinical waste, at Tyseley near Birmingham. When one, which had been there for three months, was opened, officials described "a disgusting smell came from it and it was seen that a quantity of blood had leaked,

  • A "gunk tank" containing 4,000 litres of "putrefying" clinical waste, including blood and urine - described as similar to abattoir waste, was discovered at Wrexham in north Wales.

    Undercover video surveillance of the site showed Eurocare employees emptied the tank at night into a septic tank which drained straight out into the water supply in the River Dee,

  • As trucks were unloaded at Wrexham, plastic bags full of clinical waste were being manually handled by staff, and were splitting open. They should have been in plastic bins.

Raymond Hawthorn, chief executive of Eurocare, told the Environment Agency in an interview: "Eurocare never hurt a butterfly or damaged a dandelion.

"I don't think anything we did posed a risk to human health.

"You might go on about the blood, but I could cut my knee and bleed more than that on the ground."

The company was contacted by BBC News Online, but has made no further comment.

Protection

Mike Stone, chief executive of the Patients Association said: "It's important that clinical waste is disposed of properly.

"These regulations are there, not just for the protection of the environment, but for the protection of public health.

"It's very important that they are adhered to."

Mr Stone said hospitals themselves had a responsibility to ensure that the companies they used to dispose of waste were following the rules.

The Department of Health said it had no comment to make.

The judgement on how much Eurocare will be fined is later this week.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
"Eurocare's explanation is that they were hit by a crisis"

More from north east Wales
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22 May 01 | Health
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