Next week marks a turning point in a process that could determine the health and well-being of generations of south Londoners. Here, Inside Croydon’s GREEN MAN explains some of the risks we all face if plans for a waste incineration plant in Beddington gets the go-ahead
Croydon’s Conservative Council has partnered with Lib Dem Councils in Sutton and Kingston, and Labour councillors in Merton, to build a health damaging incinerator in Beddington, just the other side of Mitcham Common from central Croydon.
Of course, they’re not calling it an incinerator. That might give the game away. These councils want to push their £1 billion scheme through planning under the guise an “energy from waste” plant.
With emissions from even the most modern incinerators shown to increase cancer and infant mortality, the potential impact on people’s health is serious. Waste incinerators are also very expensive and remove incentives for reducing and recycling waste. The construction and operation of a major incineration plant requires a huge capital investment with the owners needing a guaranteed supply of waste, over about 20 to 30 years, to make a profit.
Next Tuesday, July 12, the senior planning inspector, Brian Cook, appointed by the Secretary of State, will examine the soundness of the four boroughs’ South London Waste Plan.
Most of the people affected by the SLWP are not aware of what it proposes. Have a read here and see if you think it’s good for you or just very good for a waste contractor.
In 2009 Croydon Greens unearthed a 35-year, £919 million tender contract, inviting bids for the following services – all listed in codes from the EU Common Procurement Vocabulary. We’ve translated the codes to make it somewhat easier to understand what’s coming our way:
1. 9051330 = Incineration
2. 9051390 = Sludge disposal
3. 90520000 = Radioactive, toxic, medical and hazardous waste services
4. 90524200 = Clinical waste disposal
5. 45252300 = Refuse incinerator construction
So what is the problem? There is a massive potential health risk for the people who live anywhere near where this incinerator (sorry “enclosed facility with a chimney” – classic council spin) is built. This is not NIMBYism. Incinerators are not necessary in anyone’s backyard.
Incineration does not remove waste. It simply converts it into another form (gas, particulates, ash) and these new forms are typically more hazardous though less visible than in the original form.
Large epidemiological studies have shown higher rates of adult and childhood cancers and of birth defects around incinerators. Recent research has confirmed that particulate pollution is an important contributor to heart disease, lung cancer, and an assortment of other diseases, and causes a “linear increase in mortality”. In simple terms, that means such incinerators shorten people’s lives.
Other pollutants emitted by incinerators include known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and substances that can attach to genes, alter behaviour, damage the immune system and decrease intelligence.
The greatest concern is the long-term effects of incinerator emissions on developing embryos and infants, and the real possibility that genetic changes will occur and be passed on to succeeding generations.
Far greater vulnerability to toxins has been documented for the very young, particularly foetuses, with risks of cancer, spontaneous abortion, birth defects or permanent cognitive damage.
Waste incineration is prohibitively expensive when health costs are taken into account. A variety of studies, including that from the government, indicate that a single large incinerator could cost the taxpayer many millions of pounds per annum in health costs.
Take a look at some reports by independent health experts by clicking here, or read this report by respected environmental campaigners Greenpeace, and read this newspaper report, with background material, published 10 years ago.
Interestingly, this includes a quote critical of incinerators from a Lib Dem MP, who said, “We don’t know all the health implications that result from incineration, but the release of dioxins is clearly a serious problem. Toxic ash from incinerators has turned up in some weird and wonderful places, including on farms as compost-type material.”
He also criticised the policy of tendering for private contractors to run incinerators. “Big incinerator plants are more attractive to investors than small-scale recycling projects,” he said.
Who was this? None other than Tom Brake, MP for Carshalton and Wallington, a constituency that is clearly at risk of being affected by the SLWP incinerator.
Yet our local councils think this is a good idea. Why? The councils are under pressure to reduce waste going to landfill, with huge fines for breaching agreed limits. Faced with a problem they were keen to find a neat solution. A single massive contract to one lucky winner sweeps the whole issue under the carpet leaving the councilors across the boroughs to wash their hands of the issue. Unfortunately, the easy solution is the one which will blight the lives – and deaths – of generations of local residents.
So, what should the councils be doing? The notion of Zero Waste is not new. Communities around the world have been experimenting with various approaches to sustainable waste management more than a decade before the UK government announced its aspiration to achieve a “zero waste economy”. The Zero Waste Charter, for example, was presented to parliament on June 18, 2002.
Surprisingly, Croydon Council has recently begun a programme of increased recycling collections which should reduce the need for an incinerator. This is good. With increased recycling, Anaerobic Digestion, Mechanical and Biological Treatment plants, there are many ways to deal with our waste without a public health risk. The only trouble is that it needs a lot more thought to get it right. It would probably lead to a lot more jobs too.
What can you do? Start by asking yourself about all the service cuts we are currently enduring. Then ask how it is that Croydon and its neighbouring councils can find almost £1 billion pounds to give a contractor to build and maintain an incinerator?
Then you might want to consider this. If Croydon and the other boroughs continue with their generally welcomed recycling policies, and if present local recycling trends continue, then the four boroughs will not actually produce enough waste for its shiny new incinerator.
So the plant would then need to actively import waste to “feed the beast”. Which will increase traffic in the area, thereby adding to another, existing pollution problem.But it will at least keep the private contractor’s profits from the public sector rolling in.
Sign the petition http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/stoptheincinerator/
Those campaigning against the incinerator will be assembling outside Merton Civic Centre, London Road, Morden SM4 5DX at 9am on July 12. As the inspector failed to request any submissions from protest groups, as he could have done, we need to remind him there is an alternative to this convenient stitch up.
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- Japan:Radioactive ash found in waste incineration plant (laaska.wordpress.com)
- Campaigners rejoice as Salford council throws out plans for £70m incinerator in Monton (menmedia.co.uk)
- Are There Health Impacts from Incinerators? (pollutionfree.wordpress.com)
- [In the web] Climate Action and Justice Groups Vow to Block “Waste-to-Energy” Incinerators – ecowastecoalition.blogspot.com (hronlineph.wordpress.com)
- Health Impacts of Landfills and Incinerators (pollutionfree.wordpress.com)