Viridor incinerator under investigation by Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has confirmed it is investigating last month’s fire at the Viridor incinerator site at Beddington Lane, following complaints from local air quality campaigners, as first reported by Inside Croydon.

The fire at the Beddington incinerator last month is now subject to an investigation by the Environment Agency

But such scrutiny has not stopped Viridor’s lies and deceit over their polluting operations in south London.

During the past month, carbon monoxide emissions from the Beddington Lane incinerator twice exceeded environmental limits by nearly 200 times.

Viridor’s own report on these pollution incidents, however, begins in denial.

It states: “Throughout the reporting period, the Beddington ERF…”, they mean incinerator, “… operated consistently within its Emissions Limits.” Which of course is not accurate, because in the very next sentence they detail “two exceedances”, when the incinerator clearly did not operate within its emissions limits.

At the time of the Beddington blaze, on July 11, Viridor’s expensively hired spin doctors, aided and abetted by Sutton Council’s publicly funded press office, deliberately plied local media with misinformation, saying that the incident was a “small fire”, and that it was under control by lunchtime. They also stressed that it had nothing to do with the incinerator itself.

The London Fire Brigade proved to be a more reliable source of information, as they needed four fire engines and 25 firefighters on the scene, and took more than eight hours to bring what they regarded as a “serious” fire under control.

The incinerator was built on Beddington Lane for Viridor to service a contract from the South London Waste Partnership – made up of Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston – to burn the boroughs’ rubbish for 25 years. The contract is worth at least £1billion to the firm.

The incinerator was supposed to be fully operational by 2018, yet after a series of building and testing delays, it remains undergoing trials.

There is a compelling reason for Viridor to want to ensure their Beddington blaze is treated as a fire in their waste sorting shed, and not in the incinerator itself, because the two aspects of the same operation come under different regulations.

Nearly six weeks on, and no mention has been made by Viridor of how much and of what type of pollution was emitted during the nine-hour-long, serious fire.

With the Environment Agency looking into the incident, Viridor has now been forced to admit that what caught fire was waste being sorted ready for the incinerator, and not for recycling, as their spin doctors misleadingly stated on the day.

According to sources close to the Viridor plant, much of the rubbish in the sorting shed which fuelled the fire was discarded mattresses – highly flammable, and often made from materials which give off toxic fumes when burnt. This would explain the tall pall of black smoke which hung over Beddington on that summer’s morning and long into the afternoon, causing people living locally to report breathing difficulties.

There have been 14 fires at Viridor-operated waste plants in Britain in just three years.

The South London Waste Partnership, which is now chaired by Stuart Collins, Croydon Council’s deputy leader, has not even bothered to have a meeting in the six weeks since the fire to discuss its implications.

The Environment Agency, a notably toothless watchdog, is awaiting the Fire Brigade’s and Viridor’s own reports into the fire. They only undertook to conduct an investigation after they received a letter from Jum Duffy, of the South West London Air Quality Monitoring Group.

Duffy argued that mismanagement of the incinerator’s waste sorting building had led to the fire. He also pointed out that the fire was entirely preventable had a simple sprinkler system been fitted to the building.

In his letter, Duffy said it was concerned that toxins would “certainly have been emitted into the air from nine hours of burning many tonnes of mixed waste”. This was allowed to go into the air “unhindered and undiluted”.

Twice in the past month, carbon monoxide emissions from the Beddington Lane incinerator have spiked at nearly 200 times usual levels

The latest episodes of Viridor polluting the atmosphere occurred on August 13 and 18, according to the company’s own report.

The Viridor monthly report states: “On 13th August there was a temporary exceedance of a half hourly average for carbon monoxide. The investigation is ongoing however it is likely that the changing composition of the waste material being processed caused a temporary increase in carbon monoxide. The ERF operational controls quickly reacted to reduce the carbon monoxide level and return this to within the permitted limits. The Environment Agency have been notified.

“On 18th August there was one exceedance of a half hourly average for carbon monoxide. Following an investigation, it is likely that a propane gas cylinder (commonly used for barbecues) passed through the facility. As the cylinder was in the combustion chamber the remaining gas escaped from the bottle causing a disruption to the combustion for a short period. The container was not identified at the end of the processing facility, however in our experience it is likely this was the cause. The Environment Agency have been notified.”

In fact, Viridor’s own readings for carbon monoxide emissions went up from an average of less than 2 units to an a sky-high 385 during a half-hour time span.

Viridor, which never uses the word “incinerator” but tries to pretend that what it is operating is an “energy recovery facility”, or ERF, also refuses to take any responsibility for these latest pollution incidents.

According to their report, it is all the fault of the public and the councils which are paying Viridor so handsomely. “The South London Waste Partnership operates a number of Household Reuse and Recycling Centres (HRRCs) across the four boroughs of Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton where gas cylinders can be taken and then be sent for reprocessing.” So it is all your fault.

In fact, what these two incidents demonstrate is that Viridor is still not sorting the waste for its incinerator carefully enough, even though the company knows, to its cost, that this can lead to lengthy and costly closures. Viridor’s Heathrow incinerator was shut for six months following an explosion of a gas bottle inside the furnace.

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
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Environment, Refuse collection, Stuart Collins, Waste incinerator and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Viridor incinerator under investigation by Environment Agency

  1. Lewis White says:

    If I were charged with the task of finding ways to dispose of London’s waste, without landfilling, I would probably include incineration along with really effective recycling, both domestic, and industrial, with municipal composting processes, aided by waste restriction imposed by central government, to ban use of products like these mattresses that are made of materials that generate noxious chemicals when burned, and ban use of any packaging that is unrecyclable or not biodegadeable.

    Incinerators would not be located in London, but in places far from towns.
    Why does London have several incinerators?
    Largely, a process of neglect and a pro-active drive to “total” waste minimisation and recycling. This is due in no small measure to the fact that Local Government, The Mayor of London, and Central Government are part of a conspiracy which denies that the toxic gases and multidude of chemical combinations created during the burning process are actually damaging to human and animal life. The Environment Agency is heavily constrained , perhaps self-constrained, to tell the real truth about these effects.
    It’s reminiscent of denial about about the health effects of smoking.

    Who is trying to devise a future without Incineration?

Leave a Reply