Overflowing sorting hall sees Viridor facing health complaints

Pictures taken inside the sorting hall at the Viridor incinerator on Beddington Lane show clinical waste mixed with household rubbish

Shocking photographs taken from inside the sorting hall at the Viridor-operated incinerator at Beddington Lane show overflowing piles of rubbish with clinical waste sacks mixed with general household refuse and strewn across the floor.

The only thing that appears to be recycled successfully at the controversial waste incinerator are the excuses for the plant still not being fully operational. Viridor was contractually obligated to have the plant running properly before the end of 2018 for its clients, the South London Waste Partnership, of which Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston are partner boroughs.

According to Viridor, the “the facility continued in its final stages of the testing and reliabilty phase”, an official line that has been trotted out regularly over the past 12 months. Prior to that, the incinerator was said to be in a “process optimisation” phase.

Viridor have a £1billion contract with the councils to operate the incinerator for at least 25 years. But although some council politicians have claimed to oppose incineration as a means of managing the boroughs’ waste, none of those in power have moved to cancel the contract with Viridor for their failure to honour it.

This photograph taken for the SLWP shows how the sorting hall should look, with the floor clear of refuse

In Sutton, the LibDem-run council there has been noticeably “hands-off” in terms of any enforcement action for the company’s breaches of environmental regulations: Viridor is now the borough’s biggest source of business rates, and apparently immune from any local authority action.

These latest images from inside the sorting hall, taken within the past fortnight, are particularly worrying because it was only in July 2019 that there was a massive fire at the plant, when 100 tons of old mattresses, poorly stored in sheds with no sprinkler system and breaking conditions of Viridor’s licence, caught light and burned throughout the day, taking 25 firefighters nine hours to get under control.

Now, it seems that a backlog of waste going for incineration is creating a serious health risk to workers in the tipping hall, and could lead to further complaints to the Environment Agency and Health and Safety Executive about Viridor’s work practices.

Workers at the Viridor incinerator plant are having to contend with increasingly hazardous conditions

Clinical waste sacks (the bright yellow bags) are mixed with general household waste and overflowing on to the floor. The hall floor should be kept clear at all times so that the refuse trucks can manoeuvre and reverse on to the tipping bays and tip out for incineration.

But as Mark Gale, a local campaigner, told Inside Croydon, “As you can see from the pictures, this is not happening, leaving staff on the site exposed to the waste that’s sitting on the ground.”

Viridor, it appears, cannot burn the refuse that is being dumped off there quickly enough, as the incinerator continues to experience operational issues.

The latest emissions report released on October 16 shows the details for September, where Viridor admits to five mechanical issues causing the incinerator to stop processing waste for a number of hours.

Usually coupled with this are sky-high readings from the pair of air monitors, recording the pollution emitted from the plant.

Unsegregated rubbish is overflowing on to the floor of the sorting hall

The most recent “mechanical failure”, on September 27, saw the readings spike, with the maximum half-hourly average for NH₃ (ammonia) recorded at 30mg/m₃, completely off the bi-monthly graph. The figure when the incinerator is working correctly is supposed be around just 5mg/m₃. Similar peaks can be seen for VOC (volatile organic compounds) where a norm of maximum half-hourly average is 1mg/m₃ every day, it jumps to 14mg/m₃.

For SO₂ (sulphur dioxide) the 193mg/m₃ maximum half-hourly average almost goes over the 200mg/m₃ limit. For CO (carbon monoxide) the 10-minute average ELV emission limit value is supposed to be 150mg/m₃. On September 27, the maximum 10-minute average was more  than 50 times higher, at 8483mg/m₃.

During these “mechanical issues” where the incinerator process, the daily averages are no longer reported for the period.

Mechanical problems at the incinerator on Sep 27 saw CO emissions spike by more than 50 times the average output

And during these frequent periods of incinerator downtime, the piles of waste continues to mount, clinical waste mixed with household rubbish.

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
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3 Responses to Overflowing sorting hall sees Viridor facing health complaints

  1. Lewis White says:

    Human beings over millenia have all created waste. The Romans made toxic waste as a result of lead mining and smelting. These areas are still often bare of vegetation. Mining is still doing the same, with lakes of acidic toxic sludge from gold mining and other metals. Sadly, we are not satisfied with fouling our own nest, but for 50 years have been spreading junk into space

    I pray that science will come to the rescue. Plastic eating bugs have been found chomping away in some landfill, so I read a while back. Perhaps they could be persuaded to eat old discarded masks and covid era debris too–oh, and car tyres.

    Is the UK government investing in seeking ways of safely dealing with common waste streams?.
    We haven’t even got incentives to encourage recycling of bottles and cans. It’s been talked about for decades. Abject failure to deliver.

    Surely the sale of every non returnable bottle and can needs to contain a small sum that would cover the operation of a nationwide recycling project?

  2. Moya Gordon says:

    Hopefully the Environment Agency have been made aware of these failings.

  3. Lewis White says:

    That’s what they are meant to be doing – coming up with practical ideas. They know about all these issues.

    My guess is that the organisation is constrained by their political masters.

    They are undoubtedly doing a good job in some areas, but could do much more.

    Sadly, if we want action on air pollution from incinerators, it is probably going to come from people power, scientists, independent organisations and the media, and tragic findings about health a few decades from now. Continental countries like Germany and Denmark are seemingly wedded to incineration and seem to be more successful that we at generating and harvesting electricity and heat.
    Will the EU decide that incineration is harmful? The jury is not yet sworn in.

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