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Control Of Toxic Waste Residues

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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3.54 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to protect the environment by controlling the manufacture and by regulating the disposal of toxic chemical waste residues; and for connected purposes.
I am as aware as most hon. Members that the times when ten-minute Bills have made it to the statute book are about as rare as rocking horse droppings.

My proposals can be described as two-pronged. First, I am seeking to achieve the agreement of the Secretary of State for the Environment that he should set a timetable within which chemical manufacturers should design new chemical plants with toxic neutralising units of an appropriate character and capacity at the end of each production chain. Secondly, I am asking the Secretary of State to require chemical manufacturers to fit such units on existing plants, where practical.

That twofold approach would deal with the existing problem of the stockpiles of toxic residues and go some way towards resolving the problem of the production of further toxic waste later. The irony of the dilemma with which society is faced is that, if we had neutralising units within the processed chain, which would render the residue non-toxic before it became a residue, no-one would be worried about it, whether the neutralising unit was some form of incineration unit or simply a chemical process. The problem arises when we allow a residue to become toxic and then refer to it as a toxic residue. When attention is drawn to that, people's anxieties are raised. That is why it is necessary to design new plants in such a way as I have described. That is possible, and should be encouraged. The Treasury should give some incentive for units to be retrofitted to existing plants if they are young enough.

The Bill also seeks to contain toxic wastes within the region in which they are generated. That means that each region that derives an economic benefit from the creation of the chemicals that are produced in making the waste would be saddled with the responsibility of disposing of the waste thus created. It also means that we could dispense with the necessity of transporting toxic waste from one region to another.

A further advantage of adopting that course of action would be that toxic wastes—the residues that give rise to the anxiety—would be dealt with by communities that know the character and behaviour of the chemical compounds that are causing worry. Those communities know best how to draw up a disposal specification and how to ensure that that specification is adhered to stringently and responsibly.

It may not be necessary to deal with such toxic waste residues by incineration, but because many of the toxic residues come into existence through some form of heat application in a technical chemical process, many can also be disposed of by the application of heat. Incineration is a proven, safe and effective system for some chemicals, when carried out at appropriate temperatures under adequate pressure, in suitable plants, by qualified staff, using correct procedures, under proper supervision, applying constant monitoring in complete accordance with the predetermined approved specification to which I have referred.

I realise that this is an altruistic proposal and that it is pie in the sky, but I offer the Bill to the House as a means of discussing an issue that is causing great disquiet throughout the country and beyond our national borders. I offer it as a means of aiming at something better than what we already have, which is precious little.

For a start, we do not even know the size and character of the problem. I give credit to the Government, because I know they are conducting a survey. However, I do not think that it will go far enough. The audit should be more far-reaching and more specific about the nature of the chemicals and how they are dismantled. The adoption of my proposals would go some way towards meeting the requirements of society today, and I commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Cook, Ms. Marjorie Mowlam, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Ms. Joyce Quin, Mr. John Cummings, Ms. Hilary Armstrong, Mr. Don Dixon, Ms. Joan Ruddock, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Ms. Joan Walley, Mr. David Winnick and Mr. Gerald Bermingham.

Control Of Toxic Waste Residues

Mr. Frank Cook accordingly presented a Bill to protect the environment by controlling the manufacture and by regulating the disposal of toxic chemical waste residues; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 140.]