Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


  During my evidence session on 12 December I agreed to follow up two points in writing. The first of these related to the number of fluorescent tubes sent for recycling by this Department (Q1119, page 27 of the transcript). The second related to the amount of rendered material from cattle slaughtered as a result of BSE that remains to be disposed of, and the principle of disposing of this by incineration (Q1165 & Q1166, page 43 of the transcript).

  I apologise that I was not able to answer these points at the time, and am pleased now to be able to provide the following information.


  As of 18 December 2000, DETR and its agencies had sent around 10,400 fluorescent tubes for recycling under a contract with Biffa Waste Services. This breaks down as follows:
DETR(C) HQ buildings 3,043
Planning Inspectorate750
Highways Agency 2,262
DVLC Swansea 4,350
TOTAL 10,405

  In addition, several property centres, including the Driving Standards Agency, the Vehicle Inspectorate and the Air Accident Investigation Branch are stockpiling tubes until sufficient to warrant collection. In total, an estimated 500 tubes are currently being stockpiled.

  Two other DETR property centres (GO South East and Vehicle Certification Agency) use "Greencare" to collect their spent fluorescent tubes for recycling.

  The main barriers to take up of fluorescent tube recycling contracts are cost and space. The additional cost of recycling a tube is about a third of the purchase price. Furthermore, both BIFFA and Greencare require the hire and storage of bulky containers until a sufficient quantity of tubes has been collected. Space limitations at some DETR sites preclude this.

  Mr Benn suggested that DETR could require contractors to recycle tubes. Many DETR premises are managed by Landlords and managing agents, and our property centre managers have no direct "contract" for such things as waste and maintenance. As a result, Landlords' agents typically take the spent tubes off site for recycling. The Government Office for the North West (who occupy part of Sunley Tower in Manchester) have tried to get their landlord to enter the BIFFA scheme for the whole of site, but this was determined not viable on the grounds of cost.

  DETR also takes an active role in encouraging other Government Departments to recycle fluorescent tubes, though we only recommend (rather than requiring) that Government bodies take advantage of the contract, because of the difficulties described above.


  All cattle showing signs of BSE are slaughtered and the carcasses sent for direct incineration. No carcasses from cattle showing signs of BSE are rendered.

  The Over Thirty Months Scheme (OTMS) required the slaughter of older cattle as a precaution. About 451,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal (MBM) from this scheme are in store pending incineration. There is a further 10,000 tonnes awaiting incineration from the Selective Cull (an old scheme to slaughter cattle that may have been exposed to BSE contaminated feed).

  Over the past few months, the amount of MBM in store has been steadily reducing as incineration capacity exceeds production levels. The Intervention Board expects to meet its Service Delivery Agreement target to incinerate at least 60 per cent of MBM produced by 31 March 2002 and 85 per cent by 31 March 2004.

  The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) considered the issue of BSE and the environment in May 1996 and concluded that incineration of these materials in dedicated incinerators at temperatures of 850 C would pose no risk, either to those exposed to the resulting emissions (eg those living in the neighbourhood or downwind of the plant) or in relation to the ash.

  The Environment Agency has also carried out a number of studies of the risks from BSE to human health via various environmental pathways. One of these, published on 25 June 1997, examined the risks from burning OTMS carcasses whole in purpose-built incinerators. The study concluded that the risk of the most exposed individual ingesting, in one year, sufficient material to cause infection as a result of burning OTMS carcasses in incinerators is less than in one in one billion. In reality, the risk to the general public will be well below this level—(a) because of the lower exposure and (b) because the Agency deliberately made extremely cautions assumptions about the number of undiagnosed infected cattle in the OTMS.

  The risk assessment work carried out by the Environment Agency—the body responsible in England and Wales for granting and supervising most of the environmental authorisations which control the management and disposal of waste—supports SEAC's earlier advice that incineration in appropriately authorised plants does not pose a risk to public health or the environment.

  The assessment took account of a very wide range of possible pathways by which infectivity could reach humans: for example, by inhalation of the incinerator flue gas, consumption of crops on which ash had been deposited, and consumption of water containing unburnt material if this were to drain from an incinerator site. The Agency's assessment was fully endorsed by SEAC, and the announcement of its results was made in a joint Press Conference with the Chairman of SEAC on 25 June 1997.

Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP

January 2001

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