Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, on how 12 months after a major fire at the Beddington Lane plant its polluting operators continue to be given a free pass by the Environment Agency and local councils
Viridor, who operate the waste incinerator on Beddington Lane for four south London councils, including Croydon, are failing to deliver full and detailed reports on their plant’s pollution emissions in timely manner, as is required in their contract.
The incinerator usually provides reports showing each breach of emissions limits, and also documents all the “invalid results”, which have become a regular feature for each day it burns rubbish.
Back in February, even before the incinerator operators had the excuse of the covid-19 lockdown, there were delays in their producing pollution reports ahead of the latest meeting at Croydon Town Hall of the South London Waste Partnership, the body formed by Kingston, Sutton, Merton and Croydon councils to deliver their waste services and run the incinerator.
That delay in reporting to the SLWP meant that there was no discussion of serious breaches of emission limits which had been so high that Viridor was forced to shut down the incinerator for a couple of days, simply to ensure that it met the permitted average levels of pollution over a whole month.
By manipulating the pollution emissions averages over a longer period, Viridor ensures that there’s no possibility of any reproach from the SLWP – which is currently under the chairmanship of Croydon Labour councillor Stuart Collins – and that they also avoid any investigation from the government agency which is supposed to protect the public from such pollution, the Environment Agency.
Viridor’s Beddington Lane incinerator remains subject to investigations over the fire that took place there last July when huge black clouds of noxious pollution wafted out over the skies of south London. Under Collins, the SLWP committee has done little or nothing over the incident.
Viridor’s emissions reports for February were eventually released on March 9. They showed that the incinerator broke its emissions limits for sulphur dioxide, which pollutes air and water, while the Beddington Lane’s plant was also shown to emit high levels of carbon monoxide pollution into the air.
According to Viridor’s own figures from February, the peak exceedance of CO pollution was 1,207 mg/m³ – some eight times more than is supposed to be allowed. The figures show that Viridor’s incinerator was breaking carbon monoxide limits for every single day through February.
Yet these alarming results have never been publicly discussed by the SLWP committee, which has not been able to hold any physical meetings for almost three months because of coronavirus restrictions. The SLWP – which is using millions of pounds of public money to pay Viridor to pollute south London’s atmosphere – has stood by and allowed this to continue.
And now it seems that there are some problems with Viridor providing its emissions reports for April, too.
Brett McGuin, the environment, health and safety manager at the incinerator, said at the beginning of last month, “The printer terminal for the emissions monitoring reports was not available this week. A spare terminal has been ordered and is due to arrive in the coming week.
“At this point, the full reports for the month of April will be uploaded.”
By last week, the data for April was still not available from Viridor – in another breach of its operating agreement.
Manuel Abellan, the deputy leader of Sutton Council and the cabinet member responsible for polluting the borough, has been asked for the data to be published in accordance with Viridor’s operating agreement. But calls from concerned residents have been ignored.
With their local authority seeming not to care less about the climate emergency or air quality in Sutton, the local Extinction Rebellion group has successfully crowdfunded a mobile Nitrogen Oxides monitor. NOx is one of the pollutants that the incinerator has a record of breaching.
Sutton XR has been working closely with the South London Air Quality Action Group, who already have their own PM2.5 and PM10 particulates monitors recording data automatically around the clock.
It may have passed you by, but between October and December last year, the SLWP ran a consultation on its waste plan. Croydon Council – just weeks after the council leader declared a climate emergency in the borough – failed to publicise that the waste plan was out for consultation. The council’s press office (Motto: “Keeping you informed and involved”) has not a word about this important public consultation in its archive of press releases for September and October 2019.
So when the SLWP recently published the “representations received” from its consultation, any opposition from Croydon residents had been silenced.
But residents from the other three boroughs in the SLWP made their thoughts known. Neighbours from Sutton, Kingston and Merton struck a common theme…
“Shut down the incinerator”.
“Close the Beddington incinerator and open the nature reserve before any more damage is done to local wildlife and residents’ health”.
“Get rid of the incinerator in Beddington Lane”.
“Getting rid of the incinerator”.
One resident, in reply to the consultation, suggested, “Constant air monitoring around Beddington Lane incinerator, with regular, transparent publishing of results and incinerator being closed down when it exceeds safe air quality levels.”
They received this response from the South London Waste Partnership: “Automatic air quality monitoring takes place at two locations on Beddington Lane.” This assurance came with a link to Google Drive.
If you click on that link you get the following message: “Sorry, the file you have requested does not exist.” Naturally.
The next meeting of the SLWP committee is scheduled to be held at Croydon Town Hall on Tuesday, June 16 from 6.30pm – though obviously, how the meeting goes ahead remains subject to coronavirus circumstances. Over the past six months, all but one SLWP meeting have been cancelled or postponed, leaving important questions still unanswered around last July’s fire.
Viridor receives £10million per year from each of the four boroughs in the SLWP for operating the Beddington Lane incinerator. That’s a lot of money going up in smoke, and might explain the reluctance of the SLWP to act more decisively over the regular pollution fails and the breach of operating requirements by Viridor.
This has allowed Viridor to continue to operate the incinerator in the final stages of its testing phase.
Given the scientific evidence which suggests that those living in areas of higher air pollution are more at risk from coronavirus, there’s many across south London who are firmly of the belief that it is long overdue for Collins’s committee to start acting in the interests of the people they are supposed to represent, rather than boosting the profits and dividends of big business.
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