Cancer risks from £1bn Croydon incinerator, warn Greens

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?

Sending our waste to landfill sites is no longer an option. But burning waste is unhealthy and full of risks

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

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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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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10 Responses to Cancer risks from £1bn Croydon incinerator, warn Greens

  1. This is just daft.

    All they had to do was build it out in the Country and it would be able to accept waste from all over the place. And it would be miles from population centres.

    Instead they build it in a built up place like Beddington? That makes no sense at all.

  2. Arfur Towcrate says:

    Last July, Waddon councillor Claire Hilley planted a question for councillor Phil Thomas to answer – “during the local elections Tony Newman’s Labour Party was keen to tell people in
    Waddon that an Incinerator would be built in our Borough. As the Cabinet Member,
    who is responsible for this can you please set the record straight?”

    Came the reply “The Council has no knowledge of any proposed plans to build an incinerator within the borough. Any proposal to build a waste treatment facility within the borough would require a formal planning application that would be considered as part of the council’s planning
    process. Councillor Newman’s allegations were not based on fact and sought only to scare the
    good residents of Waddon. He should therefore be ashamed of his actions and publicly apologise for misleading the public.”

    Note the weasel words “within the borough”. Beddington is just over the border – and Thomas, who sits on the South London Waste Partnership, would have had a pretty good idea that an incinerator would be built there.

    Perhaps he and Claire Hilley should be doing the apologising now.

    • christhegoth says:

      The dirty tricks they play eh?

      The Greens were flyered by the local Torys last year enthusing that it would not be built in Croydon, and as such would not be a worry for Croydon residents.

      They ( The Torys ) simply did not understand that the prevailing wind decides who gets it with these units, and that prevailing winds often ignore postcodes…

  3. Arfur Towcrate says:

    According to says of central Croydon that “the meteorological data indicates the expected peak from the south-westerly direction which would be expected to be prevalent throughout the year and secondary north-easterly during the spring and summer months”.

    If you apply this information to the planned site of the incinerator in nearby Beddington – see this satellite image –,-0.145912&spn=0.116569,0.457306&sll=51.382335,-0.140505&sspn=0.007285,0.028582&t=h&z=12 – then you can work out where the poisonous fumes will go.

    Residents of Thornton Heath, Upper Norwood / Crystal Palace and Dulwich will get the worst of it, while people in Carshalton, Sutton, Epsom and Banstead will get their share too.

    It’s hardly surprising that Merton and Kingston councils are in favour of this – what is surprising is why Croydon and Sutton councils would back a scheme that would poison their own voters.

  4. cr7green says:

    chris, you are right, it is daft but there is no point moving the problem into the country. You still have all the health and traffic problems affecting those people living nearby, even if they are fewer in number.

    Incerators are a backward step, time for more long term thinking.

  5. @cr7green:

    Please forgive my ignorance, but what other options are there? Some of the stuff they want to incinerate is pretty nasty.

  6. I mean ‘where do you put it’? I was under the impression it’s safer to incinerate it as long as no-one lives nearby.

    If that is not true, and incineration is actually worse, then where do you put it? Toxic, Radioactive, Clinical… What options are there for storage and ‘making it safe’?

  7. Arfur Towcrate says:

    Where to put it? How about in the basement of the new Council offices, with the emissions fed into the air conditioning for the Town Hall?

  8. Pingback: Gloucester Incinerator – My thoughts on the final two groups and the process | The Murmurings of Barry Kirby

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