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.
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.
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.”
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