Pants on fire! Viridor continue to lie over incinerator blaze

Environmental polluters Viridor continue to lie about the extent of the major blaze at their Beddington Lane waste plant in July.

Viridor still claim that the blaze at their Beddington plant in July was ‘a small fire’

In an official report submitted ahead of a meeting of the South London Waste Partnership to be held at Croydon Town Hall tomorrow night, Viridor maintains the fantasy that the incident – which needed four fire engines and 25 firefighters to be on site for nine hours – was a “small fire”.

The London Fire Brigade described it as “a major incident”, and their investigation into its causes continues.

The Viridor incinerator at Beddington Lane was built at a cost of £210million on behalf of the SLWP – a grouping of Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon. It was supposed to be fully commissioned and operational by August 2018 to burn the waste from the four London boroughs under a £1billion 25-year contract.

The current chair of the SLWP is Stuart Collins, the deputy leader of Croydon Council, who had the item about the fire at the incinerator added to tomorrow night’s meeting agenda. Councillors for the wards in Croydon and Sutton worst affected by the blaze – Waddon and Beddington North – are expected to attend the meeting tomorrow night to ask questions of Viridor directly.

There have been at least 14 fires at waste plants operated by Viridor since 2015.

Croydon councillor Stuart Collins: has put the Viridor blaze on the SLWP’s agenda

The Beddington fire began before 11am on July 11, and quickly produced a large cloud of black, noxious smoke which hung over south London for much of the day.

Among the poisonous mix which seems likely to have been released into the environment during the blaze which lasted eight hours before the LFB said that they had it under control, it is suggested that hydrogen cyanide, carcinogens such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, carbon monoxide and dioxide, PM2.5 and other particulates, chromium and arsenic, will have all been released into the south London skies, unchecked and uncontrolled by Viridor.

Viridor has already been accused of deliberately misleading the public over the seriousness of the blaze, and of being more concerned with “preserving the company’s reputation” than the real risks posed to public health.

A community-led air quality monitoring group has called on the Environment Agency, the government quango which is supposed to oversee the operation of polluting plants such as the incinerator, to investigate the fire because of “mismanagement of the incinerator’s waste-sorting building”, “failure to instal a sprinkler system”, “for misleading the public and the local authority over the source and the seriousness of the fire”, and “releasing copious amounts of toxins into the environment which may have put public health at risk”.

The smoke from the Viridor fire was potentially toxic

None of those issues are addressed in a brief report submitted by Viridor to the SLWP, which is light on detail, careful to minimise the seriousness of the incident, and which goes to great trouble to put distance between the site of the fire – in a sorting shed next to the incinerator – and to place blame with the SLWP for the cause of the fire.

Viridor’s position, which they were quick to stress on the day of the fire, was that it was not at the incinerator, but at what they called “a co-located” waste transfer station. The reality, of course, is slightly different: to any reasonable person, Viridor’s “waste treatment station” is actually a shed right next to the incinerator, where staff are supposed to sift through the rubbish and remove anything – such as batteries and gas canisters – which ought not be sent through to the furnaces.

Viridor’s “waste transfer station” was built without any fire sprinkler safety system installed, something which the local planning authority, Sutton Council, failed to insist upon.

In  what they call their “briefing note” for the SLWP (they have not submitted a formal report, which the Environment Agency is still awaiting, and the EA is waiting for the Fire Brigade’s report before they commit to writing), Viridor claim, “The Beddington Waste Transfer Station is a separately permitted facility which has its own waste and fire procedures in place.

“It is located near to the Energy Recovery Facility (ERF)…”, that’s Viridorspeak for what any reasonable person would call an incinerator, “…and landfill area which forms part of the larger Beddington site.

“The waste transfer station is used by Viridor to receive waste collection vehicles from the South London Waste Partnership including bulky deliveries from HRRCs…” for those of you who don’t speak fluent garbage, that stands for “Household Re-use and Recycling Centres” “… and fly tip removal loads.

“Vehicles collecting mixed recyclables, green and food waste safely tip their loads into the waste transfer station. This then enables the specialist collection vehicles to continue their rounds within local communities. The material is then loaded onto larger vehicles before being transported to specialist food waste, composting and recycling facilities. The bulky or fly tip removal loads are transferred to the ERF for inspection, shredding or delivery to the waste bunker.

“This is a common process in the waste management industry to reduce the number of vehicles required to transport waste material. The SLWP is supported by another waste transfer station, operated by Viridor, in Kingston.”

Under a heading “Overview of the incident”, Viridor’s “briefing note” continues:

“During the mid-morning of 11th July 2019, a small fire started within an incoming load of material delivered from the South London Waste Partnership.”

This is a double-whammy as far as Viridor is concerned. Not only do they endeavour to minimise the seriousness of the incident by continuing to describe it as “a small fire”, but they also embark on full-on buck-passing: the fire “started within an incoming load of material delivered from the South London Waste Partnership“. Nuffink to do wiv us, guv.

The Viridor briefing continues: “When handling the material, smoke started to appear from within the pile of waste, before flames appeared after approximately 45 seconds. The Viridor team activated its emergency procedures, evacuated the site and the London Fire Brigade (LFB) attended the site and managed the fire. This continued until the evening of the 11th when a fire check was started and the LFB departed site…

“The fire was restricted to the waste transfer station and did not impact on the energy recovery facility”… incinerator, “… or landfill area, which form part of the larger Beddington site. Deliveries to the ERF were temporarily diverted whilst the initial phase of the fire was managed. Impact on recycling and waste collections was minimal.”

An Inside Croydon reader took this photograph of the fire at the Viridor incinerator on July 11

Viridor’s attempt to deceive and deflect is more transparent than the black cloud  of smoke that came out of their incinerator plant in July, and Jim Duffy, from the local environmental group who reported the incident to the Environment Agency, told Inside Croydon today, “I hope the South London Waste Partnership doesn’t swallow this report, which grossly underplays the seriousness of the nine-hour fire with its dense black plume.

“I see Viridor still describe the fire as ‘small’, even though they go on to say the Fire Brigade was there until the evening. No objective description, such as from LFB, who described it as serious.

“The Environment Agency has been waiting for Viridor’s report into the fire and will follow that with a site inspection. But Viridor seems to be delaying the process by waiting in turn for LFB’s report.

“No mention of preventative measures such as a sprinkler system; and their increased monitoring seems flawed as a barbeque bottle seems to have got into the incinerator unnoticed causing a 200-fold increase in CO emissions only a few weeks later.”

The four councils are each paying Viridor £10million per year to burn their boroughs’ waste, but choose to do so through the arm’s-length agency of the largely unaccountable SLWP. Tomorrow night’s meeting will be instructive of whether the customer – the residents of Croydon, Sutton, Kingston and Merton – are properly represented and able to put their contractor, Viridor, under proper and full scrutiny.

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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