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
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…
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).
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.
“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.
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