Flawed inspection regime highlights health risks of incinerators

Four years ago, Simon Hoar, a cabinet member in the Conservative group that controls the Town Hall, was distributing leaflets in Waddon ward offering a solemn promise that he and his colleagues, if re-elected to the council, would stop the development of a waste incinerator, “or anything similar”, being built in or on the borders of Croydon.

Croydon Tories' incinerator pledge from 2010: a promise broken soon after

Croydon Tories’ incinerator pledge from 2010: a promise broken soon after

By playing to the understandable fears of Waddon residents about the long-term health impact of an industrial plant burning millions of tons of other people’s rubbish, with the resulting exhaust billowing out over thousands of homes, day-in, day-out, over the course of decades, Hoar and his Tory colleagues, Claire Hilley and Tony Harris, were duly re-elected in May 2010.

The Croydon Tories’ 2010 election incinerator leaflet was a lie.

Within a few months of their re-election, Hoar, Hilley and Harris, together with the rest of the Conservative group which retained control of Croydon Town Hall, duly voted to support a scheme to build an incinerator at Beddington Lane under a publicly financed £1 billion deal with operators Viridor.

It is not recorded whether the Waddon Tories’ election pledge leaflets were burned or sent to landfill. Few locals expect them to re-cycle that particular election pledge in the months leading up to the council elections in May next year.

After being re-elected, Hoar was installed as a member of florid-faced Mike Fisher’s front bench Tory “team” on the council, for which he now receives £43,339 per year in “allowances”.

Six months ago, Hoar was out walking the streets of Waddon again, distributing more leaflets. This time, Hoar’s leaflets came from Viridor. They were like little booklets, full of the company’s own spin – propaganda – about how burning rubbish that has been trucked in from miles around by thousands of HGV lorries was somehow good for the economy and the environment.

Viridor’s leaflet ran to 12 pages. Yet no where did it address any of the health risks inherent with burning millions of tons of rubbish, and it devoted just four short paragraphs, buried like landfill deep on its eighth page, to the safety measures to be employed at their plant.

“The facility will be closely monitored by the Environment Agency to ensure that it meets the strict emissions criteria set out in the European Union’s Waste Incineration Directive,” it said, promising stricter Nitrous Oxide limits than required by the EU, and promising to protect “health and the environment”.

Hoar made his latest delivery round on behalf of Viridor just days before a crucial planning meeting at Sutton Council. With the backing of LibDem Sutton, plus Tory-run Kingston and Labour-controlled Merton as well as Croydon’s Tories, the Beddington Lane incinerator was eventually given the go-ahead.

Key in this decision was having the plans approved by the Environment Agency.

As Inside Croydon has reported previously, the EA’s record on predicting emissions from waste incinerators is just a tad flaky. “Saying that a waste-burning incinerator won’t harm health is easy. Proving it is impossible,” Michael Ryan wrote in August.

Now, Private Eye reports that the Environment Agency’s inspection regime for emissions of fine particulates – the sort of stuff that cause cancer, heart attacks and strokes and which incinerators can pump into the atmosphere – is flawed to the point of being utterly worthless.

How local environment groups see Croydon councillor Hoar

How local environment groups see Croydon councillor Hoar

This week’s issue of the magazine reports, “The Environment Agency requires modern incinerators merely to have bag filters in the flue which collect a deposit from the smoke. An agency leaflet claims these are 99 per cent effective – but a letter obtained by the Eye from the EA quotes very different figures in 2010 for the Veolia incinerator in Newhaven, East Sussex. The local EA officer writes that bag filters will only be 65-70 per cent effective for PM 2.5 particles…” meaning particles that are 2.5 microns in diameter or more.

It gets worse:

“… below the diameter of PM 2.5, the bag filters are only 5-30 per cent effective.”

So much for the Environment Agency offering any real safeguards to the health of the people living anywhere near the fall-out from the Beddington Lane incinerator.

The Private Eye report offers further causes for concern: “Incinerator companies,” it says, presumably including Viridor, “can pay private companies to conduct tests for PM 2.5 once a year, and choose the day in advance.”

According to a whistleblower who has been in contact with the Eye, even if the emissions test is a “fail”, it is sometimes unreported to the Environment Agency, the test being re-taken when the incinerator is “burning cleaner rubbish”.

It continues: “The EA runs no inspections or unannounced visits and the site is untested for 363 days of the year.”

So not for the first time, Croydon councillor Simon “I’m Cheap But I’m Not Free” Hoar has been handing out leaflets that contains a promise that won’t be kept. And residents, their children and grandchildren of Waddon and Croydon seem likely to pay with their health for years to come.


Coming to Croydon


  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, Clare Hilley, Environment, Health, Simon Hoar, Sutton Council, Tony Harris, Waddon, Waste incinerator and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Flawed inspection regime highlights health risks of incinerators

  1. When Max Hastings was a newspaper editor his induction talk to trainee journalists contained the following piece of advice: “There are three things to remember about politicians: they lie, they lie, they lie.”

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  2. As the incinerator will be in Sutton the promise has not been broken. However the traffic serving it and the emissions from it will most certainly affect Croydon. The prevailing wind will ensure that most emissions will head away from Sutton and towards Croydon and the east. Furthermore most additional traffic is likely to use Croydon rather than Sutton roads. Good deal for Croydon?

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    • As our report states, David, the promise made by Waddon’s Tory candidates was that they would oppose any incinerator in or on the borders of Croydon. That promise has been well and truly broken.

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  3. Michael Ryan says:

    Hi Inside Croydon,

    I’ve been chipping away at the incinerator issue via FoI website & also in the Planning Inspectorate’s local paper which is widely read throughout a lot of the South West.

    The recent Private Eye article interested me as the email from the Environment Agency admitting the percentages of particulates passing through the (perfectly-working) incinerator filters was among the evidence produced by Dr Dick van Steenis at the Shrewsbury incinerator public inquiry in Oct 2011.  Veolia’s legal team was headed by Rhodri Price Lewis QC and he didn’t believe such a document existed as it hadn’t been entered with the proofs of evidence submitted prior to the hearings.  Price Lewis was a bullying character who kept asking me detailed medical questions to which my answers were that Dr van Steenis, who was sitting a few yards away, was my expert witness on health & he’d be glad to answer such questions.  Price Lewis asked so many times that I turned to the Inspector to request that he inform Price Lewis that he should direct the detailed medical questions to Dr Dick van Steenis who was the only medically-qualified doctor who’d had any input into the appeal and who was sitting & waiting to give evidence & be cross-examined.

    The last question Price Lewis asked me was about the email that Private Eye is quoting from & I got a bit of a laugh when I said that Dr van Steenis had copies of the email with him and he’d be delighted to hand them out when he’s called to the stand.  My cross-examination ended then & when Dr van Steenis was being cross-examined, none of the medical questions put to me were put to him & the email knocked the wind out of Veolia’s sails very nicely as an Environment Agency email isn’t easily forged.

    Here’s the FoI questions plus 2 Western Daily Press letters 

    Best wishes,

    Michael

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/what_evidence_has_the_department/new   What evidence has the Department seen that shows that incinerator emissions don’t harm health? (28 Oct 2013)

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/the_planning_inspectorate_and_pu#incoming-439613   The Planning Inspectorate and public inquiries for incinerators (14 October 2013)

    Western Daily Press: Health concerns in incinerator debate Western Daily Press (Bristol, England) – Wednesday, October 30, 2013 Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1660L)

    I was delighted to read: “ministers must have the ‘common sense’ power to call back decisions and announcements released in error” in the Western Daily Press article ‘Court decision’s hailed as a victory for real localism’ (October 22), as “common sense” has been absent with regard to health effects in every decision document I’ve seen following public inquiries for incinerators. The Planning Inspectorate has failed to inform its political masters that there is no evidence to support the “official” opinion that incinerator emissions don’t harm health, and that inspectors at public inquiries must be relieved of their obligation to ignore health concerns raised by individuals and to only consider the opinion of the experts who haven’t examined any relevant data around existing incinerators. 

    Justin McCracken, chief executive of the Health Protection Agency, wrote the following in his letter to me dated June 8, 2009: “Furthermore, the reason we have not studied the ‘rates of illness or premature deaths at electoral ward level around any incinerator ‘ is that the number of people around an incinerator is too small to detect whether or not the incinerator is having an impact on health”. 

    Studies of infant deaths around 63 incinerators in Japan and 27 incinerators in Italy found elevated rates of infant deaths and that’s exactly what we have here in the UK where “common sense” has been absent over the incinerator issue. 

    Michael Ryan by email Western Daily Press: Witnesses must be able to give evidence Western Daily Press (Bristol, England) – Tuesday, October 1, 2013 Readability: >12 grade level (Lexile: 1610L)

    I read that the public inquiry into the proposed incinerator at Javelin Park (Western Daily Press September 20) “will focus on two key areas – location and visual impact”. 

    Unfortunately, no matter what arguments or evidence of harm to health from incinerator emissions are submitted at such inquiries – or the failure of incinerator companies to produce any evidence of “lack of harm to health” – the decision by the inspector will dismiss all health concerns. 

    The Planning Inspectorate’s guidelines for inspectors need to be changed as they require them to disregard all health concerns raised by individuals and to only consider the expert opinions of the Environment Agency (EA), the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). 

    None of the above three expert bodies were present at the Shrewsbury incinerator public inquiry in 2011 at which I was a Rule 6 Party objector, despite my prior request to the Planning Inspectorate that they be present to be cross-examined by my expert witness, Dr Dick van Steenis. 

    Both the EA and PCTs take advice from the HPA which has failed to examine relevant data around any incinerator despite promising to do so in the Daily Press article “Chemical danger testing” (August 6, 2003). 

    The Planning Inspectorate is aware that incinerators are deemed to be safe by EA, PCTs and HPA despite no proper health studies which makes the process the prearranged farce I complained about to the Information Commissioner (FER0474711, April 2, 2013). 

    What kind of justice would result if witnesses weren’t present in court to give evidence and be crossexamined? I hope that Glosvain’s barrister will take note and help bring an end to this expensive and dangerous farce. 

    Michael Ryan Shrewsbury, Shropshire

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