Air pollution kills 64,000 per year – and burning rubbish is doing nothing for the nation’s net zero climate crisis goals, according to report from an all-party parliamentary committee
A Parliamentary committee headed by a former Croydon MP has called for the complete halt of the building or expansion of all waste incineration plants, and for the introduction of an incineration tax to protect human health and cut carbon emissions.
A report by the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution concludes that ultrafine particles released by incineration at scale constitute a significant health hazard.
Former Croydon Central MP Geraint Davies, the chair of the group, said, “Air pollution already kills 64,000 people across the UK each year, so government planning that will double incineration capacity by allowing the construction of 50 new waste incinerators by 2030… should be immediately halted as it will give rise to a significant growth in ultrafine particulates, which are the most dangerous to human health.
“Of critical importance is that it is the number of particulates, as opposed to their combined mass, that is the key determinant for human ill health. The smallest particulates act like a gas and penetrate seamlessly into the bloodstream and organs, creating damage to the hearts, brains and lungs of victims.”
Croydon Council, as part of the South London Waste Partnership with Kingston, Merton and Sutton, spent £210million on having a waste incinerator built at Beddington, which has been operational since 2017-2018.
Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour councils were all involved in the decision to build the polluting incinerator for Viridor to operate – in Croydon, the decision was made by the Conservatives and then pushed through under Labour. The four councils now each pay £10million per year in a 25-year contract worth a total over its duration of £1billion to burn their boroughs’ waste, including – as Inside Croydon revealed from the Viridor contract – the potential for radioactive waste.
Latest official figures from the SLWP show that Croydon’s recycling rates have reduced, with nearly two-thirds of the borough’s waste now being shovelled into the furnaces of the Viridor incinerator.
The all-party parliamentary group on air pollution report comes just days before seven councils in the North London Waste Authority vote on awarding a contract to expand a plant in Edmonton, as the local authorities respond to the mounting pressure on budgets presented by the usual alternative offered to incineration – landfill.
There are at least 90 incinerators in Britain, with 50 more proposed or in development, according to data collected by anti-incineration group United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (Unwin).
A report in The Guardian states, “The group of MPs heard evidence from Ruggero Ridolfi, an oncologist with more than 40 years of clinical experience, who found heavy metals in the toenails of children living near incinerators and highlighted the link with acute childhood leukaemia. Research by Kirsten Bouman, of ToxicoWatch, an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness of toxic hazards, found dioxins in chicken eggs up to 10km from incinerators that emit them.”
Protests against the Edmonton incinerator include demonstrations by doctors in the area who are calling on council leaders to support cleaner, alternative ways of dealing with local waste.
A report from the National Infrastructure committee warned rising greenhouse gas emissions from waste incineration would prevent the UK meeting its net zero targets by 2050.
Highlighting the carbon impact of waste incineration, the APPG report called for tax measures to be introduced to restrict incinerator expansion.
Dr Dominic Hogg, who founded the environmental consultancy Eunomia, told the MPs a 700,000-tonne incinerator pumps out about 700 tonnes of NOx (nitrogen oxides) a year. He said incineration – like landfill – should be taxed in relation to the carbon content of the feedstock and the emissions of NOx, SOx (sulphur oxides), particulate matter and other pollutants. They should also be part of the emissions trading scheme.
Geraint Davies was MP for Croydon Central from 1997 to 2005. He has been MP for Swansea West since 2010. He said poorer communities already suffered worse health outcomes from disproportionately higher levels of air pollution and inequality. Poorer communities are three times more likely to have an incinerator in their area than more affluent areas, according to research by Greenpeace.
Davies said: “Plans to increase incineration in London and elsewhere should be put on hold to prevent excess capacity driving the burning of recyclable waste.
“The protection and improvement of air quality must become a central strategy to combat climate change and to improve human health nationally and globally.
“We must apply the precautionary principle to new waste incineration in urban locations so that the cumulative health risks of ultrafine particulates to dense populations do not materialise.”
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