By Kelly Hilditch
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1985

Incinerating health and the environment

This article is over 15 years, 11 months old
Activists across Britain are stepping up their campaign against New Labour’s plans to increase the use of waste incinerators. These incinerators will lead to more pollution.
Issue 1985

Activists across Britain are stepping up their campaign against New Labour’s plans to increase the use of waste incinerators. These incinerators will lead to more pollution.

The government claims it wants to use incinerators as a “green” way to deal with the amount of waste produced in Britain. An environment white paper due to be published next month suggests that the proportion of burned waste could rise from 9 percent to 25 percent in the next 15 years.

It urges making “energy from waste”, a process in which incinerators are used to power electricity generation plants. But incinerators are extremely inefficient generators of energy, producing more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than a coal-fired power station.

This will increase the threat of global warming as well as putting the health of those who live near incinerators at risk.

Peter from the Guildford anti-incinerator campaign in Surrey said, “We need to link all the disparate campaigns around Britain. Even if you stop one particular incinerator the real aim must be to make the government think again about how we deal with the waste we produce. And about how we produce the energy we need in a sustainable way.”

Around 9 percent of municipal waste in England is currently incinerated, with the West Midlands burning the most, sending 31 percent of the region’s waste to incinerators.

Around 72 percent of waste is currently sent to landfill sites, but incinerators are not the answer to reducing this figure. Incinerator operators need a constant level of waste in order to keep the fires burning. To meet this demand local authorities abandon recycling and waste reduction plans.

But the main concern surrounds pollutants found in the ash left in the incinerator and emitted from the chimney. These include dioxins, acid gases, nitrogen oxide, heavy metals and particulates. These are suspected of causing cancer.

Although most incinerators in Britain are used to generate electricity, it does not save energy in the long run because the waste is not recycled. This means more raw materials have to be produced to replace the burnt material.

Respect member Huw Pudner was one of the founders of the Stop The Incinerator Campaign which was set up to oppose the incinerator in Neath, South Wales.

Huw said, “The company running the Crymlyn Burrows giant incinerator and waste treatment plant has gone bankrupt.

“This is only the latest sorry chapter in a long running saga of political and environmental incompetence involving the Neath Port Talbot council and its private partners HLC which was responsible for the running of the plant. It has gone bust owing some £40 million.


“Ever since the plant was proposed six years ago it has run into a storm of protest from residents and environmentalists. The incinerator has been a fiasco. It was unloved, unwanted and an affront to those who have to live in its shadow.

“Before it was officially opened it was destroyed by fire and it has contaminated local houses and the nearby beach. Now the company that runs it has gone to the wall.

“The Neath branch of Respect believes that it should be closed down permanently and its workers employed on environmental projects in the area.”

Dr Jerry Thompson an activist from the Slough anti-incinerator campaign in Buckinghamshire explained the health risks associated with incinerators. He said, “The report on the Sint Niklaas incinerator in Belgium is the only complete study ever done on incinerators.

“Although the proposed incinerator at Colnbrook in this area will have a lower dioxin output than that at Sint Niklaas, the fact that it would be nine times larger, will emit higher volumes of particulates and will foolishly be allowed to incinerate radioactive material gives little cause for comfort.

“Children are more vulnerable to the pollutants produced by incinerators, breathing in more air than adults relative to their size, and are likely to be the first to suffer from adverse effects. The foetus and newborn are uniquely vulnerable.

“The report on the Sint Niklaas incinerator showed that blood and glandular cancers appeared in children about five years after the incinerator started operating. This preceded the increase in adult cancers by seven years. Adults cancers showed a five-fold increase over 20 years.

“The Sint Niklaas study also showed an excess of autism, hyperactivity, allergies, asthma, repeated infections and congenital defects.”


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