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Dumping Of Hazardous Industrial Waste

Volume 415: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1980

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2.47 p.m

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is correct as stated in The Times (17th November, col. 1, page 5) that thousands of gallons of hazardous industrial waste rejected by Holland (its place of origin), after being refused entry into Ireland, is now being redirected to Teesside in a coastal tender flying the flag of Panama because it is too toxic to permit of dumping in the sea.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment
(Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, consignments of industrial waste have been imported into storage in Teesside in recent months pending decisions on reprocessing or disposal by the owners. They have been notified to the waste disposal authorities under the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act and disposal or treatment in the United Kingdom can only take place at a site licensed by the waste disposal authority for the purpose under the Control of Pollution Act. A licence would be required from MAFF for disposal at sea after loading from a United Kingdom port.

Yes, my Lords, but is the noble Lord the Minister aware that The Times suggest that this waste consists mainly of polychlorinate-biphenyl, just about the most toxic thing in the world, which laid low all the fish in the Great Lakes of Canada, which devastated Indiana, and which is generally recognised by scientists as both carcinogenic and teratogenic? Is it taking the maximum precaution to allow this to be floating about our fishing grounds under the Panamanian flag, over which we exercise very little authority if alternative directions are to be given? Would the noble Lord take this really seriously, because for all practical purposes this particular toxic element is believed to be completely indestructible?

My Lords, I take the question very seriously indeed. It is a serious matter. That is why I would repeat that a licence would be required from MAFF for disposal at sea after loading from a United Kingdom port. The question of the Panamanian flag would not in any way affect that.

My Lords, could the noble Lord confirm that this particular cargo came from the "Deborah II" and that it was declared non-toxic by MAFF and to be perfectly safe? Would he agree that while Teesside has the warehousing tanks suitable for control and that it would be adequately safeguarded with precautions, it is highly desirable that these tanks should be used for chemicals rather than have the risk of fly tipping in the North Sea where the owners have nowhere to put their chemicals? May I ask the noble Lord to go further into the question of the eventual destination of these chemicals?

My Lords, I cannot answer the last part of that supplementary, because so far as I am aware that has not yet been decided. I know, and I gladly confirm, as my noble friend said, that the shipments are those which came in on the vessel to which he referred. While repeating what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hale—that this is something worthy of watching very carefully—I gladly confirm that, because it is being so watched, there has been proper notification in every way, and we shall therefore be very alert to what ultimately transpires.

My Lords, will the Minister also consider letting the Drugs Squad have a little reminder that, in shipping quantities of this kind, nothing is simpler than to bury a tin, resistant to fire for a time, to mark its presence by attaching a piece of string, leaving investigators quite helpless to locate or extract it and to be exposed to grave risks of poisoning themselves?

My Lords, I am not sure where the Drugs Squad comes into this and I can do no more to help the noble Lord than repeat what I said earlier; namely, that it is a serious matter which we watch very carefully. At the same time there are proper commercial transactions which take place and, provided there is no breach of any of the stringent and strict regulations which are laid down in this area, I think we can, at least at the present time, be satisfied.