Infant death rates were up by 233% after incinerator fired up

Official figures from the ONS for the year after Viridor began its operations at Beddington showed a sharp increase in infant deaths in Selhurst, Broad Green and Waddon wards. STEVEN DOWNES reports

Rule breakers: the Viridor incinerator at Beddington has broken its licence conditions more than 40 times in two years

Infant mortality rates in one part of Croydon, downwind from the waste incinerator at Beddington, increased by more than four times in the first year after Viridor began plying their polluting trade in south London.

That’s according to research figures submitted as evidence to a public consultation over whether the American-owned multi-national should be granted a licence to burn even more rubbish and create even more deadly pollution, while raking in ever greater profits.

“The actual numbers of infant deaths recorded by ONS in the first full year after the incinerator started operating is shameful and not to be ignored,” environmental campaigner Jim Duffy warned in his submission to the Environment Agency.

Duffy has asked the EA to commission a full study on the local health impact of the Beddington incinerator, which fired up its furnaces for the first time in 2018 and was fully operational from 2019.

Duffy and fellow anti-incinerator campaigners are planning a protest at the Beddington plant this Sunday, five days before the latest EA consultation is due to close.

Duffy wrote in his submission to the EA that ” it would be criminally wrong” to use economic growth – the Government’s current policy – as a reason to allow the increase in Viridor’s licence.

The Environment Agency has extended its consultation deadline to September 15.

Yet even before this stage of the consultation began, the EA said that “it is minded” to grant an application from Viridor to increase the burning capacity at Beddington Lane, despite the operators breaking its licence conditions on more than 40 occasions over the course of the last couple of years.

In one episode in 2022, the incinerator went more than seven times over internationally recommended emissions levels for hydrogen chloride. Hydrogen chloride is the chemical normally used in the production of potentially deadly hydrochloric acid.

The incinerator was built close to the Sutton-Croydon boundary in order  to service a £1billion, 25-year contract with the South London Waste Partnership, an arm’s-length, unaccountable quango established by Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon councils to handle their boroughs’ rubbish.

Even the pliant client, the SLWP, is among the many objectors to Viridor’s latest permit expansion application. As are all four of its member boroughs, including Croydon.

But burning other people’s crap is now such a lucrative business for Viridor and their US-based owners, global investment company KKR, that they want to truck in ever more rubbish from across southern England to increase their profits, and the volume of toxic pollution pumped into the atmosphere across south London.

Bit-by-bit, Viridor have increased their capacity over the years: their latest 10% licence capacity increase, if permitted by the EA, would see them burning 382,286 tonnes every year.

Duffy’s research for his submission to the EA consulation found that in three electoral wards in Croydon – Selhurst, Waddon and Broad Green – infant mortality rates soared in the year immediately following the Beddington incinerator becoming operational.

Duffy cites work using figures from the Office for National Statistics which he maintains contradicts a 2019 study from Public Health England.

Independent researcher Michael Ryan studied the ONS data and found that 20 of the 22 incinerators did have an effect on infant mortality.

Other research, conducted by Greenpeace, concluded that a broad range of health effects have been associated with living near to incinerators. These include cancer (among both children and adults), adverse impacts on the respiratory system, heart disease, immune system effects, increased allergies and congenital abnormalities.

In his submission to the EA, Duffy explains how the usual wind patterns in south London are key to monitoring any potential impact on public health. Any study of health data restricted to Sutton fails to take into account that the incinerator is situated on the north-east corner of Sutton, while the prevailing winds from the south-west will blow the Beddington pollution plume mostly over the north of Croydon “with particles and heavy gases dropping out in that area”.

The effect appears to have been immediate, and stark. “Infant mortality increased up to 233% in three Croydon wards the year after the Beddington incinerator started up,” Duffy writes.

“I have received Office of National Statistics data which show between a 56% and a 233% increase in the annual infant death rate per 1,000 live births, comparing all the years 2002 to 2013 with 2019.”

Duffy notes: “Two wards were directly downwind (Broad Green and Selhurst) and one was an adjacent ward (Waddon).”

Duffy provides these figures from the ONS:

  • Broad Green: 9.7 to 15.2 cases per 1,000 live births = 56% increase
  • Selhurst: 5.3 to 22.7 cases per 1,000 live births = 233% increase
  • Waddon: 4.8 to 7.4 cases per 1,000 live births = 64% increase

Today, Duffy told Inside Croydon, “These sort of changes cannot simply be attributed to socio-economic conditions in these wards.”

Duffy’s grim work included checking the the number of infant deaths in each of the wards for the 17 years before the Beddington incinerator began operating.

In Selhurst, for the 17 years to 2018, there had been 35 infant deaths recorded, an average of 1.5 deaths per year. In 2019, there were four infant deaths, a 160% increase. “More than double the 17-year average in one single year,” Duffy wrote.

“There appears to be a big jump in 2019, the first full year of the incinerator operating which started in July 2018 and operated intermittently that year.

“Whichever way the data is looked at, either the rate per 1,000 live births or the raw numbers, there seems to be a significant rise in infant mortality in the year following the start up of the incinerator.

“This matches independent researcher Michael Ryan’s findings at other UK incinerators.

“Infant mortality is an early indicator of air pollution and is often observed before other health effects are observed such as heart disease, asthma, other chest conditions, Alzheimers disease and cancer, the latter which can take 10 years to manifest from the environmental assault.”

And Duffy states, “I would ask the Environment Agency to reject the question of raising the amount of waste burnt at the incinerator until a full local study of infant deaths and other health risks in the area can be conducted.”

Read more: Viridor’s charge sheet: incinerator operator’s eco-vandalism
Read more: Viridor incinerator fined for multiple pollution permit breaches
Read more: ‘People will die’: Dombey accused of Viridor ‘Faustian pact’
Read more: Viridor incinerator breaks its toxic VOC permit for 40th time

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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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4 Responses to Infant death rates were up by 233% after incinerator fired up

  1. Jim Duffy says:

    Thanks Steven. Well produced article, faithfully reproducing the grim information. Time to shut down the incinerator!

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    ”while the prevailing winds from the south-west will blow the Beddington pollution plume mostly over the north of Croydon “with particles and heavy gases dropping out in that area”.

    That just sums up how local authorities act. Three of the most populated wards. three of the most overdeveloped wards – three of the most desprived wards, three of the most resource scarce wards. Fantastic planning that – almost seems intentional to many living in the areas affected.

    So how many days of the year does that shit actually blow over those wards? More or less than the Councils 365 day bullshit?

  3. Peter Underwood says:

    We should be working on plans to close the incinerator down, not increase the amount burnt there. Waste management should be focused on reducing waste and looking after the health of the community, not making profits for a private company.

  4. Kate Gardener says:

    This Council won’t budge.
    We are just money makers for them. You would at LEAST think they would want to keep us alive to be their cash cows!
    They have no regard for our actual welfare. AT ALL. They have made that FUNDAMENTALLY CLEAR.
    They are just looking out for their statistical ratings and commercial benefits.
    Don’t anticipate movement on shutting it down. Even IF it’s proven that should happen!

    That would be yet ANOTHER HUGE FAILURE on their part.

    Heads Should roll for what they are doing to our Borough, but so long as they are getting paid for sitting in their ivory towers, we will not matter. Ever.

    It’s a disgrace. I’m now embarrassed to say I’m from, or even live in Croydon.

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