Viridor incinerator fined for multiple pollution permit breaches

After at least 34 permit breaches in three years, the south London councils’ partnership is taking action against their contractor – though nothing is being done about the serious ‘acidic air’ incident in May

Polluting: Viridor are to be fined for their repeated breaches of their Beddington incinerator operating permit

Viridor is to be fined for the high number of pollution “incidents” occurring at its Bedding waste incinerator this year.

The rare move was announced this week by the South London Waste Partnership, the local council quango comprising Sutton, Merton, Kingston and Croydon.

The amount of the penalty fine for the £4billion incinerating multi-national business has not been revealed. But industry sources suggest that Viridor probably won’t be unduly put out.

The SLWP has a £1billion contract with Viridor to burn their boroughs’ waste at Beddington over a 25-year period.

According to the SLWP’s statement, there has been a “relatively high number of emissions exceedances at the plant during May and June 2022”.

This includes when Viridor’s incinerator spewed acidic hydrogen chloride into the south London skies on May 3 this year – but this incident has not been included in the SLWP complaint because “Viridor was able to bring the emissions back to normal operating levels within the four hour period so a breach of the permit did not occur”. So that’s alright then…

In fact, on that one day, Viridor’s incinerator went more than seven times over internationally recommended emissions levels for hydrogen chloride (HCl).

It was the 34th time in little more than three years that Viridor is known to have broken the terms of its operating permit. Yet Viridor and their clients, SLWP, seek to claim that the Beddington incinerator had been 100per cent compliant in 2021. Which contradicts the Viridor incinerator’s own records, which showed at least three sulphur dioxide breaches in 2021.

But then, the SLWP has a well-deserved reputation as apologists and enablers for Viridor’s polluting plant.

Recently, exploding pressurised gas bottles, which Viridor fails to sort and remove from its waste stream, have been exploding in the incinerator furnaces and causing most of the outages, the SLWP statement suggests.

The SLWP statement says that it has formally requested Viridor to provide a “rectification plan” setting out how performance of the plant will be brought back to 100per cent compliance.

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

Caught out: the SLWP report issued this week

The string of permit breaches 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. 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 this week’s SLWP statement, Andrea Keys, the partnership’s director, said that there had been six breaches of emissions limits at the incinerator in May and June 2022 alone, five of which were in breach of the plant’s Environment Agency permit.

“This is disappointing as the facility had previously gone 12 months without a single breach of the permit,” Keys said. Which is untrue, even according to Viridor’s own monitoring.

Keys continued: “We have written to Viridor to make it clear that contractual penalties will be applied for each of the breaches and we have formally requested a plan from Viridor that sets out what they are going to do to ensure environmental performance is improved. From the monthly reports it would seem that many of the exceedances have been caused by pressurised gas bottles going through the treatment process, so this is an issue we are particularly keen to explore further…

“The SLWP boroughs expect 100per cent compliance with the EA permit 100per cent of the time, and will use all of the mechanisms available to us in our contract with Viridor to ensure those high standards are met.”

A statement issued by Viridor alongside that of their clients included nothing resembling even a hint of an apology for the multiple polluting incidents caused by their money-spinning incinerator.

Ignored: residents’ concerns about the incinerator’s pollution have overlooked by local councils

“The facility holds an environmental permit, issued by the Environment Agency as the UK’s environmental regulator, this stipulates the safe operating conditions to ensure the facility does not cause harm to human health or the environment,” Viridor said. By definition, therefore, on every occasion that Viridor’s incinerator broke its EA permit, they will have been putting the health and well-being of around 1million south Londoners at risk.

The May 3 “acidic air” incident, although not included in the SLWP’s list of permit breaches, did warrant a special note attached to the partnership’s statement.

The hydrogen chloride exceedance “occurred during a period of ‘Abnormal Operations’,” the SLWP said, “a technically unavoidable stoppage, disturbance, or failure of the abatement plant or the measurement devices.

“During this ‘abnormal operations’ period the operator has four hours to respond to emissions exceedances relating to the abatement systems. If the issue is not rectified within the four hours the plant has to be brought offline and this is classified as a breach of the permit.

“On this occasion, Viridor was able to bring the emissions back to normal operating levels within the four-hour period so a breach of the permit did not occur.” An Alice In Wonderland kind of statement that will come as a complete reassurance to absolutely no one…

“The reason the operator is permitted the four-hour period is due the amount of diesel required to bring the plant back online and the relative environmental impact that shutting down the plant would have. The facility is allowed a certain amount of hours per calendar year to be in ‘abnormal operations’.”

Meanwhile, Sutton Council’s planning committee has this month ignored all objections and granted planning permission to Viridor to build an extra dirty diesel fuel tank on the Beddington incinerator site, no doubt because the operators are expecting to use a lot more polluting diesel to fire up their furnaces in the future.

Read more: Mayor will have little say over borough’s rubbish contractors
Read more: ‘People will die’: Dombey accused of Viridor ‘Faustian pact’
Read more: Viridor incinerator given 20 warnings in just 15 months
Read more: Viridor breaking rules over incinerator’s pollution reports

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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
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3 Responses to Viridor incinerator fined for multiple pollution permit breaches

  1. Annabel Smith says:

    Let’s not forget this incinerator was built on the site of an important wetland area, a key habitat to threatened bird species.

    I also dread to think how much of what is burned is what we put out for recycling/food waste in good faith each fortnight.
    What an utter let down.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    I would suggest that Croydon NHS (in fact all four boroughs) request compensation from the Company also for the increased usage of reliever inhalers and hospital admissions caused by the pollutant practice or ”errors”.
    I would also suggest that all fines are directly given to purchase extra ventilators and breathing apparatus to loan to GP Hubs so that said money is not ”lost in budget cuts.
    But that is unlikely to happen and it would get ”lost” in administration and budget cuts in all areas of local administration.

    So I would go so far as to ask Viridor to make a voluntary donation at a base level each year supplemented by a large donation at every breach to a trust set up with their representatives and patients of the local community that directly suffer from these leaks with capacity and experience of administration of trusts.
    The purpose would be to use said donations to purchase equipment separate from the NHS to provide rapid and quick access to breathing equipment including a ventilator or two and for these to be based not in Hospitals but in the 24 hr GP Hubs or community medical centers. The opportunity for matched funding and support from other areas can be capitalised on and also partnerships with Local NHS trust hospitals also. This would ensure that the money and equipment would not get lost and have a direct beneficial impact on sufferers.

    I would be happy to flesh out a draft business proposal around the idea for discussion with their representative as any time. Just reply to this comment with a contact.

    After having my GP being asked to query the over usage of reliever inhalers also, one has to wonder what planet those requesting this from GP’s are on. Perhaps a quick read of this article above might assist their lack of understanding.

  3. Jim Duffy says:

    Thanks Inside Croydon. Actually the recent six pollution breaches were over a six week period, not two months as wrongly stated in the SLWP press release. Viridor had not issued its emissions statement at that time for the last two weeks in June. So they were allowing breaches at the rate of one every week!

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