Viridor incinerator breaks its toxic VOC permit for 40th time

MARK GALE reports on how the Environment Agency’s ‘strict limits’ on polluting emissions are not so strict after all

Something stinks: Viridor has broken its pollution permit 40 times in 42 months

The latest emission data for the polluting incinerator on Beddington Lane has just been released and yet again, operators Viridor have breached their Environment Agency-set limits.

The reports that used to be published fortnightly have become less reliably regular since a change of personnel at the facility earlier this year, making it less straightforward to keep a check on which part of their permit Viridor has broken most recently.

But the data made available this week shows that on September 15, the levels of Volatile organic compounds, or “VOCs”, exceeded the “strict limits” by more than 10per cent.

For Viridor, the limits don’t seem to be too “strict” as this is the 40th time the Beddington incinerator has gone over those limits since the data started being publicly shared 42 months ago.

The high VOC releases are usually associated with the smell that is released by the incinerator. BY definition, the gasses are unstable and when released in large amounts they can induce undesirable effects to those who have asthma or other chronic health problems. Health effects range from the relatively minor, such as itchy eyes, to headaches, fatigue, coughing, nausea through to serious conditions, like cancer.

Viridor operates the incinerator at Beddington under a £1billion, 25-year contract for the South London Waste Partnership, which comprises four boroughs: Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon.

Ill wind: how pollution from the Viridor incinerator blew towards Croydon on the day of the latest emissions breach

While Viridor’s admittance of the breaches is a step in the right direction, perhaps a more responsible procedure would be to publish the current status of the emissions, live, so those in the more vulnerable positions such as infants and young children, older adults, and people with certain health conditions, can take some simple precautions to reduce their exposure to the pollution by staying indoors and closing windows.

On the day of Viridor’s latest breach of their permit conditions, the wind was blowing towards Croydon, in the direction of Harris Invictus Academy, Old Palace School and Wandle Park. Tens of thousands of people will have unwittingly taken in lungfuls of the toxic, polluted air, thanks to Viridor.

The excuse given by the polluter was that the crane that picks up the waste from their bunker had an issue, stopping processing…

Last week, the Environment Agency published EPR/GP3305LN/V002, the “Notice of variation and consolidation” for the incinerator after a permit review. It lists the status log of Viridor’s Beddington incinerator permit with details of each variation and change listed since the initial application was made 10 years ago. Viridor, despite their at best patchy record for complying with their permit requirements, has an outstanding application to burn more waste at Beddington, which the Environment Agency is due to consult on in the coming months.

Inside Croydon will, of course, bring news of the consultation once it has been announced.

There’s a running total of the breaches by Viridor’s Beddington incinerator at, which gives the date, emission type and link to a copy of the relevant page from the full 15-page emissions report that can be found at

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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10 Responses to Viridor incinerator breaks its toxic VOC permit for 40th time

  1. What are the penalties? Have they been applied?

    • Jim Duffy says:

      The Environment Agency has a system where the number and scale of breaches incrementally increases the compulsory charge they apply to Viridor and other waste companies for regulating their activities.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    Many people with asthma have had to use reliever inhalers a lot more frequently due to these toxins in the air. Many have had discussions with GPs and other respiratory Doctors and clinicians as to why their breathing issues are uncontrolled. There is usually no clear answer, but there is a theme for those unexplained changes and that is Viridor.

    It is not much use to those suffering and having lives disrupted that the EA fines culprits It will not bring back those lost days nor relieve past pain.

    It is also not much use to attempt to take the culprits to Court for compensation individually, as many are in no position or have the health for the long legal battle in proving that Viridor are the main culprits.

    What about the other triggers that are rampant like badly placed LTNs poorly controlled ”perfectly legal developments” with uncontrolled and unenforced codes and regulations by this planning department and its enforcement areas. Building dust clouds allowed to surround and envelop adjoining properties to those developments. Many with clinically vulnerable people resident including severe breathing issues.

    But is is not just the people affected. It is their families, their neighbors and the overall affect on demand for NHS intervention and treatment.

    One person alone that has been exposed to just the effects of Viridor and a bad builder and developer and their rampant abuse of the ”voluntary building code” building regulations, planning conditions and just plain manners and normal decent behaviors directly led to costs to the NHS in excess of £100k and counting as the permanent damage costs are ongoing.

    This would be made up of three life saving operations over 3 months in hospital and quite expensive heart/lung medication.

    Minor and well controlled conditions became acute and chronic when exposed to known and warned about impacts of badly controlled developments being ignored by authorities and polluting companies.

    So how much do they give back to the NHS for the additional costs they create via their actions? How much of the fines the EA imposes goes back to the local clinical commissioning groups to fund their impacts on residents?

    Can we not start with putting fines directly back into the Community impacted to reduce future pollution and to pay towards the medical costs?

    • Jim Duffy says:

      Agree. For the sake of our health we should just stop burning rubbish. It’s possible to achieve 85% recycling rates.

      • Thomas Windsor says:

        Switzerland is one of the best places for recycling…
        96% of glass is recycled
        86% of steel
        91% of tin cans
        83% of PET bottles
        70% of batteries
        0% of municipal waste is sent for landfill
        For municipal waste 50% is recycled and the other 50% is incinerated… So according to the Swiss incineration is a key part of the cycle.

        • Jim Duffy says:

          According to this study highlighted by Zero Waste Europe, MRBT or Mechanical Recycling, Biological Treatment offers the best solution with least environmental impact. Waste is sorted at source with a portion being recycled. The remainders go through a further process which extracts more recyclable and compostable waste before it is rendered inert and landfilled. As it’s inert it produces no methane, the biggest criticism of landfill. The approach has been adopted in several Italian cities including Milan and is being used in South America and elsewhere.

  3. Jim Duffy says:

    Thanks inside Croydon and Mark Gale. Unfortunately the Environment Agency has undergone huge cut-backs in recent times including a cut of £235 million by one Liz Truss when she was departmental minister, according to the Guardian. The local Raynes Park office has been cut from ten to three staff. Very difficult to regulate in these circumstances. But Viridor shouldn’t take advantage of this situation and clean up their act. Better still if we can shut down this and all incinerators and go for a cleaner, greener alternative with better concentration on recycling as in Italy with the Contarina project which recycles the waste of half a million residents without incineration, near Venice.

  4. Lewis White says:

    After putting all my bottles, recyclable (aka “widely recycled”) plastic, cans and paper/ card etc in the correct recycling wheelies, and any foodwaste (minimal) in its little bin, and put my veg peelings etc in my garden compost bin, and clean plastic bags in a bag to go back to the supermarket, what am I left with ?

    The stuff that has to go in the unrecycleable “dustbin” is either dirty stuff like plastic wrapping for meat and fish, or “not yet recycled” items like Polystyrene– I try to avoid buying things in polystyrene trays as I know that none of them are recycled–even though on the bottom, it has a sneaky “recycle triangle”. That fools a lot of people who imagine that if they see the triangle, it gets recycled. My local butcher included. He uses eco-friendly packs too, but the polystyrene tray with a clingfilm wrap is an easy way to store and wrap meat. Probably cheaper too.

    What else graces my bin?
    Basically, nasty stuff …… the contents of the bathroom bins, soiled cardboard food wrappers, cat litter (when my son’s cats come here to stay) , plus minor building waste like dried up glue tubes and tubs of old woodfiller, and compost bags from the garden centre- although I try to reuse these a few times before they get binned.

    We are a 2 person family nowadays, so our waste bins have less in them, but the conclusion I reach is that it is the “currently unrecycled” plastics and laminated or what I call “plasticated paper” and card faced with foil are the main culprits.

    Sadly, unless Government steps in to ban these “not yet recycled ” plastic/paper/ foil composites, our bins will continue to hold these eco-disaster packagings.

    Another thing…….. we are car owners, so take the occasional trip down there to recycle metal, old lightbulbs, batteries, waste wood, hard plastics like flower pots and light fittings, and dead small electric appliances. We have a garden waste bin too.

    If we didn’t have a car, I am not sure that I would make the effort to go by bus to the Purley Oaks depot.

    The hard plastics and the other stuff would–sadly–go in the bin. What are we meant to do with that stuff?

    I would agree with those who seek 100% recycling.
    But we would need the Council to do doorsep collections of the stuff I take to Purley Oaks.

    Nationally– and forgive me for naively assuming that there is still any concept of a nation– we really must get deposit schemes on drinks containers to stop people dropping bottles and cans in the street and parks/ countryside.

    Also, ban the selling of products sold in unrecyclable containers.
    Why not a tax on polystyrene? That would make non-polluting substitutes as cheap.

    If we ever got to the Swiss situation, how would we get rid of the residual waste?

    Burn it …….or bury it in landfill?

    Myself, I would go for inceneration, as it does not store the problem up for future generations to deal with and treat — but there would have to be really effective burners, and chimney “scrubbers” . The few incinerators would need to be in carefully chosen locations, where the contaminated smoke would blow out to sea or sparsely populated countryside. Horrid as that is, it is a fact that residual waste will have to be got rid of.

    Waste is a by product of civilisation. Roman mine spoil from lead mining still contaminates mine areas in Anglesey (Parys Mountain) and Shropshire.

    But we, in my life time (so far !) have created whole plastic and electric waste mountains It is no joking matter.

    And……how much of our waste ends up being dumped in cities and rural areas of Africa and Asia, before it gets burnt ? Then, toxic smoke is breathed in by children and adults scavenging the dumps. And… gets dumped in the rivers, here and there–and ends up in the once pristine Oceans.

    Exporting our waste, other than scrap metal, must be made illegal, in my view.

    Science can do much– but needs investment.

    Maybe plastic-chomping and contaminant-guzzling bacteria will come to the rescue.

    My own view is that God will sort it– but God needs our help, right now, from Governments and us , if we are to enjoy this wonderful planet without killing it and our fellow creation.

  5. Lewis White says:

    Thanks to Mark and Inside Croydon for this brilliant and revealing / worrying article.
    The SW London Waste Plan is being revised–but I bet that it just accepts Beddington Incinerator will go on, and on ……

    Once in a while, you will smell burning plastic in Croydon Town Centre.
    Is this being caused by some moron burning plastic bags in their back garden, or a builiding site or back street garage doing the same?

    Possibly, but probably not.
    Most likely , your nose and lungs are being filled with the choking gases, chemicals and particulates borne on the wind, coming straight from the smokestack of the Beddington Incinerator. It is ruining your health and reducing our lifespan, as noted by Ian above.

    If we really need to incinerate, which reluctantly I think we do, even if — or rather (and I hope we do so very soon), “when” — we attain “95% recycling”, I don’t think that it should be done where it will affect tens or hundreds of thousands of people. Beddington is so very close to where people–lots of people- live.

    Maybe a Boris Island should be built– not for an airport for London, but to burn residual rubbish ?

  6. Ralph Dent says:

    Viridor are not to be trusted.

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