Incinerator goes 7 times over level for acidic hydrogen chloride

Viridor, the operators of the Beddington Lane incinerator, have admitted that they have been polluting the south London air with hydrogen chloride, a chemical normally used in the production of potentially deadly hydrochloric acid.

Acid test: the Beddington incinerator has broken the terms of its licence 34 times since 2019

Data released by Viridor today shows that earlier this month they went more than seven times over internationally recommended emissions levels for hydrogen chloride (HCl).

This is the 34th time in little more than three years since the data has been made public that Viridor has broken the terms of its operating permit – and looking at the figures, this was a big one.

Until now, Viridor’s permit breaches have been for excessive CO (carbon monoxide), SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and VOC (total organic carbon).

This latest permit breach comes as Viridor is seeking permission from the toothless watchdog, the Environment Agency, to increase the amount of rubbish that they burn at the Beddington incinerator.

Back in 2018, their original licence from the South London Waste Partnership allowed them to burn 276,000 tonnes per year. The SLWP’s four boroughs – Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon – are each paying Viridor £10million per year to burn their residents’ rubbish and to pollute the air that their residents breathe.

In 2021, Viridor was allowed a 15per cent increase in the amount they burn.

But at the end of last year they made moves for a further 10per cent increase on top of that, which if agreed could see them burning 385,000 tonnes of waste every year, with all the toxic pollution that goes with it.

In Croydon, 63per cent of the borough’s waste was burned at Beddington in the latest year for which figures are available. Croydon’s waste recycling rate has plummeted to 35per cent, down from 48per cent in 2019.

At the start of this month, residents living in and around Beddington reported and photographed the unusual volumes of smoke coming from the incinerator chimneys at the start of this month. According to Viridor’s latest emissions report, this was all down to a week-long incident involving a gas cylinder.

In common with most waste incinerators, Beddington operates two “lines”, separate operations so that if one has to be stopped for whatever reason, the other can continue shovelling ton upon ton of rubbish into the furnace.

Viridor continue to refer to their incinerator as an “ERF”, or Energy Recovery Facility, even though, approaching its fourth year of operation, the incinerator’s furnaces remain unconnected to any of the heating networks that were used to justify granting it planning permission. Which sort of makes it an Energy Non-Recovery Facility.

Red lines: the dot over May 3, along the 60mg/m³, shows the extent of the emissions of HCl

The latest Viridor reports show that there was a problem on the last two days of April and then going into the first four days of May.

The emissions breach occurred on Tuesday May 3 – World Asthma Day…

The Viridor report states that at the end of April, “Line 1 stopped processing waste on the 29 and 30 following a gas bottle passing through the ERF, this resulted in a period of maintenance, some visible steam venting and no daily average being recorded.”

Then: “At the beginning of the month, Line 1 [May 1-4] stopped processing waste following a gas bottle passing through the ERF, this resulted in a period of maintenance, some visible steam venting and no daily average being recorded.

“Line 2 was also impacted during this time whilst the maintenance was undertaken resulting in there being no daily average.”

Hydrogen chloride is the main acid pollutant from incinerators.

There are laws and regulations regarding HCl emissions. The new legal framework for Waste from Energy in Europe (BREF WI) requires emission limit values between 2 and 8mg/Nm³.

On May 3, Viridor’s Beddington incinerator reached 60.2mg/m³ from Line 1 and hit a monthly peak on Line 2.

No smoke without… : the Viridor report, released today

Viridor has been providing the emission reports since March 2019 (it has been burning long before this, but that was considered to be just “testing”).

The reports are buried on their website, where they are  updated twice a month.

Those lovely people at Merton TV have carefully logged all of the emissions breaches at the Viridor incinerator. It’s already a troublingly long list:

2019 March 25 CO 547mg/m3
2019 April 20 CO 105mg/m3
2019 June 12 CO 111mg/m3
2019 June 24 CO 134mg/m3* Twice
2019 June 24 CO 134mg/m3* Twice

2019 July 29 CO 114mg/m3
2019 August 13 CO 266mg/m3
2019 August 18 CO 382mg/m3
2019 August 25 CO 770mg/m3* Twice
2019 August 25 CO 770mg/m3* Twice

2019 August 26 CO 268mg/m3
2019 August 30 CO 217mg/m3
2019 August 31 CO 117mg/m3
2019 October 21 CO 144mg/m3
2019 November 3 CO 109mg/m3

2019 November 12 CO 134mg/m3
2019 November 19 CO 116mg/m3
2019 December 2 CO 107mg/m3
2019 December 20 CO 132mg/m3
2019 December 30 CO 146mg/m3

2020 February 28 SO2 224mg/m3
2020 May 24 VOC 21mg/m3
2020 June 21 VOC 26mg/m3
2020 August 9 VOC 26mg/m3
2020 August 16 VOC 28mg/m3

2020 October 4 CO 53mg/m3
2020 October 18 VOC 21mg/m3
2020 November 14 VOC 46mg/m3 *Twice
2020 November 14 VOC 46mg/m3 *Twice
2020 November 24 SO2 249mg/m3

2021 April 24 SO2 224mg/m3
2021 May 2 SO2 290mg/m3 *Twice
2021 May 2 SO2 290mg/m3 *Twice
2022 May 3 HCI 60.2mg/m3

So far the incinerator has not reported any breaches in PM (Particulate Matter), NOx (Oxides of Nitrogen) or NH3 (Ammonia), the other three emissions monitored.

Read more: ‘People will die’: Dombey accused of Viridor ‘Faustian pact’
Read more: Heat network’s plan depends on 75 homes that don’t exist
Read more: Four London boroughs have no plans for waste reduction

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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
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6 Responses to Incinerator goes 7 times over level for acidic hydrogen chloride

  1. Lewis White says:

    Thank you for a massively informative article. I wonder how Beddington compares with other incinerators ?. Is it that the sensors on the Beddington chimneys are more sensitive than those on the otherrs, or is Beddington just more polluting?.

    My guess is that they are all about the same really. Health destroyers.

    My other guess is that the “exploding gas bottle” that Viridor blame for the breakdown was a laughing gas bottle sold for “catering”, but used as a “high” by young people. I keep picking up almost full bottles in a local car park, and am wondering what to do with them. I will give the Council a call and see what the “Help” centre advises, if anything.

    Presumably “not in the household waste”.

    About time that only licensed catererers were allowed to use those things– but better that the teens inhale that stuff , not glue.

    Oh dear, it is all so complicated.

    If only all our waste were recyclable and recycled–and that kids didn’t find the need for artificial highs.

  2. James Seabrook says:

    This is such a shocking waste of resources. Surely it would be better to burn waste products at a power station to heat water rather than let it literally heat up the atmosphere. Somebody has really got their priorities wrong here. Such a concentrated amount of obnoxious and dangerous fumes surely can’t be acceptable in this day and age.

  3. Grace Onions says:

    It’s really great to see this information there for all to see – thank you Inside Croydon (and sources).

    Years ago, before this incinerator was built, a group called ‘Stop the Incinerator’ was set up and got as far as the high court for a judicial review where it was thrown out. We fought hard to stop this out-ot-date behemoth and had a lot of support, but the people with the money won.

    The pollution was one of our main concerns but considered not relevant so we couldn’t use that in court. We tried hard to make local people aware of the dangers – it’s well known that these airborne toxins are very bad for our health. Everyone’s health. Respiratory conditions are on the rise and while some of this can undoubtedly be laid at the feet of vehicles’ emissions, the rest is coming from somewhere quite local …

    We could ask why this incinerator wasn’t sited in the ‘Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames’?

    Much harder to fight now that it’s up and running, which we also knew and that’s why so much effort was put in at this early stage. We must keep going, keep raising awareness, this is important, people are literally dying.

  4. Neil Pitcairn says:

    From memory I think exceedances in emissions of hydrogen chloride are usually associated with burning PVC, something incinerator operators tend to avoid for precisely that reason. It tends to associate with emission spikes of the other toxins from burning PVC (dioxins etc).

  5. Peter Howard says:

    This is something our new Mayor should be taking up and if environment agency is as rubbish as the rubbish burnt, ask his friends in Government for help in persuing this useless quango.

    • Jim Duffy says:

      The Environment Agency is certainly weaker than it used to be. But much of the blame for this goes to its funders, the Government. They instituted a new rule called the ‘Growth Duty’. This requires the regulator not to inhibit the economic growth of industries it regulates.

      I found this out from the EA when I questioned why they didn’t impose a heavy penalty on Viridor for its 25 breaches in 15 months upto December 2020.

      This perverse rule is a polluter’s charter!

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