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Institute for Animal Health: Waste Disposal

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) when the last inspection of the effluent pipes at Pirbright took place; and if he will list the dates of the effluent pipe inspections at Pirbright since 2001; (155477)

(2) when Ministers were first informed that the effluent pipes at the Pirbright Institute for Animal Health were deficient and likely to leak effluent;

(3) when Ministers were first informed of requests to replace or renew the effluent pipes at Pirbright.

[holding answer 17 September 2007]: The drainage systems of laboratories licensed by the Department to handle specified animal pathogens under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO) 1998 are not routinely inspected. The responsibility for the integrity of the buildings and infrastructure rests with the licensee and the owners of the site. No specific concerns that would have suggested that the integrity of the effluent pipe system at Pirbright was at risk, were raised with DEFRA as licensor and regulator. DEFRA was not asked by the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) for money to replace or renew the drainage system because of concerns about the risk of effluent leakage. Any issues relating to funding of the effluent drainage system, whether remedial or replacement, would be a matter for the IAH and Merial (as the occupants of the Pirbright site), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) (which owns the land and buildings on the Pirbright site) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) (as the IAH's and BBSRC's sponsoring Department).

Until the investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into potential biosecurity breaches at Pirbright was under way, there was no indication that there was a risk of effluent escaping from the drainage system; although there had been some concerns over the possibility of water leaking into the drains via the manhole covers, that was brought to DEFRA's attention. However, it had been recognised that the system was old. The HSE informed DEFRA Ministers, on 17 August, that leaks could have occurred from the system. On the same day, DEFRA contacted the IAH, which that afternoon put into effect a plan controlling access and strengthening biosecurity measures for movement of people and vehicles. The report from the HSE investigation contains a detailed inspection of the drainage system, and is available from the DEFRA website and the Libraries of the House.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what advice Ministers received about the implications for bio security of the decision not to fund the repair of deficient pipework at the Pirbright Institute for Animal Health site. (155532)

[holding answer 17 September 2007]: DEFRA is the licensor and regulator of the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO) 1998. Prior to the Health and Safety Executive's advice in August 2007, neither the IAH, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), as owners of the site, nor anyone else raised concerns with DEFRA about possible biosecurity issues relating to the effluent drainage system.

Any issues relating to funding of the effluent drainage system, whether remedial or replacement, would be a matter for the IAH and Merial (as the occupants of the Pirbright site), BBSRC (as the IAH's funding body) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) (as the IAH's and BBSRC's sponsoring Department). In its role as licensor and regulator, DEFRA was consulted about the requirements and specifications of a replacement effluent drainage system to meet extra capacity demand and to address concerns about water getting into the drains via the manhole covers, and was kept informed of progress in relation to instigation of the work. At no stage was any indication given to DEFRA, that there might be possible implications for biosecurity resulting from delays in agreeing funding between the parties concerned.