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Media Release
Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

29 June 2001

States and Territories must act to control clinical waste

Have you ever wondered what happened to the used needles, bandages, human and animal tissue or leftover pharmaceuticals generated in our clinics, hospitals, veterinary surgeries, dental clinics, ambulances, nursing homes, and mortuaries?

Well, the answer is lots of different things happen to this waste depending on which State or Territory is involved. And some of the things that happen simply are not good enough.

There is considerable risk for industry workers, as well as community, health and environment damage if cytotoxic waste (from cancer treatments) or nuclear medicine wastes, or sharps or blood or other body fluid wastes are disposed of without proper treatment. In Australian we still do not have any uniform rules or regulations to make sure that these products, collectively called clinical waste, is disposed of properly.

Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Heritage, has urged the States and Territories to acknowledge the problem and co-operate with the Commonwealth, which is trying to improve the situation at the National Environment Protection Council meeting in Darwin today.

"The Commonwealth wants a detailed analysis of what disposal systems are being used, and where. We then want world class and uniform standards to better protect public health and the environment," Sharman Stone said.

"The lack of any uniform labelling, transport requirements or measures for disposing of clinical wastes, means that there is the potential for some industry operators to shop around for the state with the least costly disposal regulations. As well, many people discharged from hospital early, receiving ongoing treatment at home, are left with clinical waste that needs proper disposal. Some have estimated the volume of this clinical waste is almost equal to that generated from clinics and hospitals".

"Clearly this issue needs urgent attention".

"There is also the serious issue of diseased animal disposal, should there be an outbreak of an epidemic like anthrax or foot and mouth disease. Victoria's emergency plans were found to be completely inadequate when the anthrax crises came," Sharman Stone said.

"We need to have systems properly thought through and agreed now, before there is the hint of a crisis in our country."

"The Federal Government wants to ensure that there is greater protection for the community against any risks associated with inappropriate and poorly monitored disposal of clinical waste. Environment Ministers from all States and Territories meeting in Darwin today have an opportunity to bite the bullet and rectify the ad-hockery of the current situation.

Sharman Stone said that the clinical waste collectors, transporters and the disposal industry, represented by the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Waste Management Industry Group, strongly supported the Federal Government's push for uniform national standards.

"They are a highly responsible industry which have produced a model code of practice. However, voluntary compliance is not good enough. We need regulation to ensure consistently high standards," Sharman Stone said.

"The Federal Government, Industry and the community are untied in demanding safer ways to dispose of the toxic and potentially infectious wastes."

"I call on the States and Territories to join with the Commonwealth in addressing this problem by agreeing to a single national approach," Sharman Stone said.

For further information contact:
Simon Frost 0419 495 468
June 29th, 2001

Commonwealth of Australia