EPA issues $16,000 in fines after clinical waste illegally disposed of at Wallsend landfill

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined Hunter New England Local Health District $8,000 and Specialised Waste Treatment Services Pty Ltd $8,000 after the improper disposal of clinical waste at Summerhill Waste Management Centre in Wallsend.

A bulldozer unearthed the waste during routine work at the landfill site in February this year. The waste included various forms of clinical waste and the discovery of two human limbs.

In undertaking the investigation the EPA looked at the chain of disposal including examining relevant transportation, hospital and waste records, and consulted a forensic pathologist.

The EPA has concluded that the clinical waste originated from anatomical bins at the mortuary and pathology departments of John Hunter Hospital. This type of waste should have been incinerated and was instead incorrectly classified as appropriate for landfill. The investigation identified a lack of clear procedures between John Hunter Hospital and Specialised Waste Treatment Services.

EPA Manager Waste Compliance Cate Woods said that while there had been no deliberate unlawful action from either party, a serious communication breakdown between the hospital and waste services provider led to the alarming and sensitive discovery.

“Both Hunter New England Health and Specialised Waste Treatment Services have been fined for their actions in the failure to transport waste to a lawful facility. Additionally, both are required to audit and report back to the EPA on their waste management systems and procedures,” Ms Woods said.

“This incident was a combination of inadequate separation, classification and disposal of waste which should have been incinerated. It’s important for organisations to strictly adhere to the requirements around clinical waste, not only to reduce risks to the environment and the community, but also to avoid potentially distressing situations, like this one.”

Newcastle City Council operate the Summerhill Waste Management Centre and have not been the subject of any regulatory action as a result of the investigation.