Europe-wide operation tackles unlawful sanitary waste disposal

Almost 280 000 inspections and 102 arrests to prevent infections spread

The European Union’s police agency says it has made 102 arrests in a continent-wide operation to check on the correct disposal of sanitary waste amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Europol says it identified sanitary waste treatment, which is meant to be closely regulated by authorities, as a potential concern during the worldwide health emergency.

Europol said Monday its investigation in 30 countries uncovered cases of illegal trafficking, storage, dumping and shipment of waste and document fraud.

In Portugal, police inspections of more than 2,000 companies, hospitals and health centers led to 30 arrests and the seizures of assets worth almost €800,000 ($960,000).

The Spanish Civil Guard’s environmental unit, SEPRONA (Guardia Civil) investigated the activities of an enterprise operating in Barcelona, Madrid, Murcia, Valencia, Tarragona and Zaragosa. The company had links with another organisation operating in Lisbon, Portugal. Spanish officers searched 9 locations and arrested 20 individuals for crimes against the environment, labour rights and public health. The sanitary waste, collected by the company, is normally supposed to be sterilised at high pressure to eliminate all hazardous components. To increase profits, the company reduced the time of treatment. This resulted in the waste not being properly sterilised before disposal; an inadequate treatment which caused high risks for public health.

Law enforcement authorities also focused on the transport of sanitary waste across the EU. Authorities from Czechia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia checked cargo and identified illegal shipments, which were then sent back to their country of origin.

Another trend identified during the operation was the possible pollution of urban residual waters. The Spanish Civil Guard launched operation Arcovid to investigate the filtering treatments of the water for pollutants and the possible presence of COVID-19.

In one case in Spain, a company cut its treatment of sanitary waste, which is supposed to be sterilized at high pressure, to increase profits.

This long-term operation has had the involvement of the following countries: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine, the Europol site says.

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