Viridor incinerator given 20 warnings in just 15 months

Twenty: that’s the number of official warnings issued by the Environment Agency to Viridor over their waste incinerator at Beddington in just 15 months.

The 20 formal warnings – without a hint of any kind of sanction for the multi-national operators – relate to breaches of what were supposed to be strict limits over pollution incidents at the incinerator. The figures were obtained by south London environmental campaigners through a Freedom of Information request, and cover the period from September 2019 to December 2020, as the incinerator belatedly became fully operational.

It works out at an average of one warning every 23 days.

Other figures obtained from Viridor have shown that the Beddington incinerator is pumping out three times as much greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as other, similar facilities.

Yet the shocking statistics have been described as “reassuring” by a Liberal Democrat councillor who chairs the South London Waste Partnership.

The Beddington incinerator was built at a cost of £210million for Viridor and is operated on behalf of SLWP – the arm’s-length and unaccountable body run by Croydon and three other borough councils: Sutton, Merton and Kingston.

Beddington’s environmental warnings were issued for 13 breaches of its monitored harmful emissions, for carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and total organic carbon.

The Beddington incinerator has been collecting warnings for emission breaches since it became fully operational

One warning was given for a worrying “loss of monitoring”.

Other warnings issued by the toothless watchdog were over waste operations at the incinerator, such as “poor bunker management”, “management of waste on the grate”, “management of waste”, “management of waste mixing”, “waste feeder issue” and hazardous waste “not checked”.

Jim Duffy, from South West London Air Quality Monitoring Group, told Inside Croydon, “It’s highly worrying and a bad start that the incinerator has been issued with so many warnings almost from the day it began operating.

“We know from Viridor’s own records that there were many other breaches of harmful gases during that period including hydrochloric acid, ultra-fine particulates – PM10s – and ammonia which did not attract warnings.

“It’s damning that this incinerator is running so badly that it was issued with so many more warnings than all the other Viridor incinerators put together. And UK emission levels are set generously for the operator at the expense of the environment and our health.”

Duffy’s group’s FoI also requested similar information for five other Viridor incinerators. Beddington was by far the worst. The Lakeside incinerator near Heathrow has received just five warnings from the Environment Agency in 10 years. Two others, Peterborough and Avonmouth, received no warnings in four years.

Despite being new, Beddington is already clearly the worst-performing of Viridor’s incinerators. Neither Viridor nor the SLWP have ever offered any explanation for this notably poor level of performance.

Reassured: Hilary Gander

SLWP shares joint responsibility with Viridor for the incinerator’s operation. The four boroughs have a £1billion, 25-year contract with the waste incineration giant.

Hilary Gander is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Kingston and the current chair of the SLWP. She said, “Personally I find the report reassuring: it shows that not only does the EA take action against any emissions breach – no matter how small or fleeting – but that they also investigate the root cause of any breaches and apply further penalties if they feel it appropriate.

“This robust approach to regulation is something that I’m sure we all welcome.”

But Shlomo Dowen, the coordinator of UK Without Incineration, said, “Such an argument works for one or two, or perhaps three incidents – but these ‘occasional’ and ‘fleeting’ incidents at Beddington come across as being more than just ‘one-off events’.

“I would not be reassured. The frequency does seem high. It could point to generally poor management of the facility as a whole or some aspect of it.”

Read more: Incinerator is ‘as polluting as coal-fired power stations’
Read more: Calls for Beddington incinerator to be shut down over CO2

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4 Responses to Viridor incinerator given 20 warnings in just 15 months

  1. Sandra Monks says:

    This is disgraceful. Thanks to Inside Croydon for giving this publicity. I can only hope (against hope?) that this will result in some action from Croydon Council.

  2. So many councils locked into this deal they appear ham-strung. Time to involve national bodies I think

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    I do feel the Environment Agency are doing their role to some extent as evidenced by the warnings. But three questions that stand out here.
    1. Is there prima facia evidence of systemic non compliance by neglect, people performance or worse by design.?
    2. Are the powers given to the Agency enough to deal with matters in such as to prevent harm to people and area.
    3. Where is the Council and Ministerial intervention?

    I do feel that on question 1 there is evidence that requires investigation and perhaps a temporary cessation at the plant.
    on the other 2 questions clearly regulations require tightening as do powers to suspend and better support by ministers.
    Can the undersecretary explain why Viridor executives and SLWP leads with Council CEO are not facing questions in the house environment select committee? After all it says they are ” Looking at issues from the air we breathe to the food on our plates, Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) exists to scrutinise the administration, spending and policy of the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.”

    This matter is not just a party political football it affects all our lives and health. So of the 4 boroughs involved would it be reasonable for all parties including Lb Dems to campaign to prevent this happening? Can we not get a petition to be sent to this committee?

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