Viridor accused of new licence breach with ‘black, acrid smoke’

Viridor, the multinational firm that makes millions in profits from being allowed to pollute the air across south London, has admitted that a power outage at their Beddington Lane incinerator saw them leaving potentially toxic waste to “smoulder” untreated, possibly for as more than 24 hours.

‘That’s not steam’: black, acrid smoke was coming from the incinerator for several hours

Residents across Croydon, Mitcham and Sutton had complained of “a very bad burning smell of plastic” and “black acrid smoke spewing out of the facility”.

“It’s disgusting,” said one resident forced to breath the polluted air.

Dave Tchil, a Labour councillor for Hackbridge ward on Sutton Council, reported the concerns to the Environment Agency and was shocked to discover that this was the first that the watchdog had heard about the latest incident at the Beddington plant.

“Worryingly, there’s no evidence, to date, of something called a Schedule 5 notification being sent immediately by the operator to the Environment Agency,” the councillor said.

Tchil suggests that this is very likely yet another breach of Viridor’s operating licence – at a time when the Environment Agency is considering an application for a further increase in the incinerator’s burn capacity.

The Viridor incinerator is notorious for having broken its licence requirements more than 40 times in the past couple of years.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in some wards in northern Croydon, downwind from Beddington, infant mortality rates increased by 233% after its first year of operation.

“I consider this to be a serious incident,” Tchil said today, mocking the Liberal Democrats who control Sutton Council by adding, “This is definitely smoke coming from the chimneys, and not the ‘steam’ that Sutton’s LibDems and Viridor like to claim.”

More seriously, Tchil points out that with the Viridor plant not operating properly, higher levels of toxic pollutants have been released into the atmosphere. “I’m very concerned that the likely failure to disperse these pollutants into the atmosphere… has been really compromised,” he said.

Viridor were appointed to operate the incinerator on a £1billion, 25-year contract by the South London Waste Partnership, an unelected local quango run by Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon councils.

A committee made up of councillors from the groups which control those councils is supposed to meet regularly, although scheduled SLWP meetings in September and October have been cancelled, without explanation.

Today, in an operations note issued by the press officer for Viridor, they admitted that usual processes for reducing pollution and removing toxic particles – what they call the “active abatement process” – “was not operating”.

The Viridor statement said that the incinerator plant “experienced a power failure with the main connection to the UK Power Network yesterday evening.

“As part of the Beddington [incinerator]’s management protocols any power failure will see no further waste processed.

“In line with design parameters the [incinerator] will contain any residual waste that was being processed. This waste will smolder [sic], any flue gases will pass through the bag filters to remove particulates, however the active abatement process was not operating.

“No new waste has been introduced into the [incinerator] during this time.”

Viridor said that an investigation was underway and that the Environment Agency had been informed, although the statement offered no indication of when the EA had been notified.

Read more: Infant death rates were up by 233% after incinerator fired up
Read more: Viridor’s charge sheet: incinerator operator’s eco-vandalism
Read more: Viridor incinerator breaks its toxic VOC permit for 40th time

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8 Responses to Viridor accused of new licence breach with ‘black, acrid smoke’

  1. Jim Duffy says:

    Residents posted complaints on Facebook from early yesterday morning despite Viridor saying the electricity problem only arose in the evening. And residents from a large area from Hackbridge to Rose Hill and Cheam as far as Worcester Park complained. This must have been a dense plume of pollution to be detectable by the acrid burnt plastic smell so far away.
    The bag filter system does not stop all particulates from escaping the incinerator as implied in Viridor’s statement. The most harmful to health are the small PM2.5 particulates which fly freely into our air. My sense is that it is routine discharges, not occasional accidental emissions which are causing harm to the health of those downwind of the incinerator.

  2. Dan Maertens says:

    Call me a cynic, but if there are parts of the ‘active abatement process’ whose functioning is essential for ensuring that emissions are within their operating permit, there should be a back up including an alternative and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) in place, otherwise one might consider that Viridor’s risk management systems are somewhat deficient. But as Jim Duffy alludes, the only safe emissions are zero emissions.

    • Jim Duffy says:

      Asked about a back up generator at the Community Liaison Meeting earlier this evening, Viridor gave a mixed reply, first saying there was none then seeming to say there was. The response is to be verified. They also said they no longer have the emissions monitoring data over the period of the black smoke and stench as they’ve given it to the Environment Agency as part of their investigation! Don’t they keep back up of their data either? Sounds like incompetence if it’s true.
      The EA investigation was said to probably take weeks although councillors said they’d press the EA to take this pollution event into consideration as part of their decision about the planned increase in incineration. Viridor’s internal investigation should take days.
      A request at the end of the meeting about the immediate publication of monitoring data was brushed aside.
      Thanks to Louise Anna Duggan for her report back from the meeting, which was difficult to follow as there was no video feed(!) only audio.

  3. If the fumes that came out of the Beddington incinerators twin chimney stacks were diverted into the offices of Viridor’s chairman and CEO, they’d be safe to breathe. As things stand, people downwind of Beddington are being treated as passive smokers of substances that will give some of them cancer

    • Jim Duffy says:

      Yep. Infants are more vulnerable than adults to environmental health impacts so they are effectively like the canary in the cage that coal miners use to warn of toxic gases. Worrying infant mortality now surely means excess cancers, asthma, dementia and heart disease for local adults in the next few years.

  4. David G says:

    Viridor are telling porkies. Drove through on Wednesday and encountered the stink.

    Phoned Sutton Council who said they had been aware of it since Monday.

    Phoned the EA to report it and they knew nothing about it.

  5. Jim Duffy says:

    At Viridor’s community stakeholder meeting last Wednesday evening they reported that they didn’t have enough staff on duty to notify the Environment Agency! Incredible!

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