Clinical waste firm probed over potential criminal breaches of environment law

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Regulators are investigating whether a company that laid off hundreds of staff committed a criminal offence over environmental legislation breaches.

Earlier this year, hundreds of tonnes of waste piled up at Healthcare Environmental Services (HES) disposal sites amid a backlog it said had been caused by a shortage of incinerators.

The company, which was responsible for disposing of clinical waste from every hospital, GP surgery, dental practice and pharmacy in Scotland and also had several NHS contracts in England, denied claims human body parts were among items caught up in the backlog.

Around 150 staff at its depot in Shotts, North Lanarkshire, were told on Thursday that the company would cease trading.

Earlier this year, the firm said its banking facilities had been cut off following the loss of NHS contracts in Scotland and England.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said there will continue to be robust regulation of the company’s base in Shotts, and at its other Scottish site in Dundee.

Sepa issued two enforcement notices to HES on September 12 outlining the need for the company to demonstrate more robust systems in relation to the tracking and management of waste.

Two further enforcement notices were issued on December 11 to ensure each HES facility was complying with permit conditions for the storage of waste.

The agency has indicated that inspections this week established HES has not fully met the requirements of the latest enforcement notices.

Breaching environmental legislation is a criminal offence.

A spokesman for Sepa said: “Sepa has now commenced an investigation to establish if criminal offences have been committed.

“This could include further enforcement action, up to and including considering a referral to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

“Our work has included weekly inspection visits and we do not have any immediate concerns for local communities or the environment.

“HES currently remains responsible for meeting their environmental obligations, including the removal and treatment of waste from their sites, and Sepa will continue to pursue compliance.”

Sepa said that if the company enters liquidation, environmental obligations will fall to the insolvency practitioner.

The Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and health boards have worked with Sepa to conduct extensive contingency planning.

The agency said it remains confident the contingency arrangements in place will ensure clinical waste across Scotland continues to be stored, collected and disposed of appropriately.

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