The Facility and Health
Q Is the facility safe?
Yes. The facility must adhere to the strict emission limits set out in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which was published in 2010 to combine and replace seven existing EU Directives governing pollution control. Its aim is to achieve significant environmental and public health benefits by reducing emissions across the European Union Member States. If a facility cannot comply with these limits, it will be shut down by the Environment Agency.
The emission limits set in the IED are recognised to be below those considered to be harmful to human health, as they are very low and in some cases close to background levels. They were only decided upon after extensive consultation, taking into account the most up to date scientific health and environmental research.
Q Who monitors the facility?
The facility must have a valid environmental permit from the Environment Agency to operate. Without it, the plant is not permitted to function. This will be the subject of a separate application and consultation process, which is yet to take place. We’ll inform you when the environmental permit application is ready to be submitted.
More information can be obtained from the Environment Agency website:
Many environmental permits have already been issued by the Environment Agency under the IED; there are 26 energy from waste plants already operating in the UK, and many other similar facilities – you can see a list of them here:
Q What about the chimney stack?
The chimney stack will be 52m high and 2.8m wide at the base.
Q How has the height of the chimney stack been decided?
The height of the chimney stack has been set after using a special computerised model (known as a stack height dispersion model). It takes into account the local background air quality levels. This makes sure that the emissions from it are dispersed safely to comply with the strict regulations governing air quality. They are dispersed through the atmosphere at high level to avoid the remote possibility of any concentration at ground level.
Q How have the health risks of the facility been assessed?
The current levels of pollution in the area were taken into account, together with meteorological data for the last five years, which gives information on wind direction and speed. Even allowing for the facility operating at full capacity, and assuming that it releases the maximum level of emissions allowed under the IED, the overall levels in the area would still be below permissible air quality standards.
The air quality assessment has also taken into account other activities around the site which could combine with the facility’s own processes to affect the air quality, as well as other potential developments. Even combined with other industrial activities, the air quality will not be compromised as a result of the facility.
In practice, emissions from the facility will be below the IED limits, as the facility operating systems are designed with a significant safety margin. In addition, the facility is unlikely to operate at full capacity for the whole of the time, so the overall level of emissions will be lower than predicted by the computer model.
The assumptions used in the model are the ‘worst case’ scenario, and the results from this model are used to assess the health risks of the small amount of pollutants from the facility. This showed that the risk from the emissions from the proposal is well below the acceptable UK risk levels, so well below the already stringent safety levels.
Q Who will monitor the facility for safety and compliance?
Before the facility can operate, it will need to apply and gain an Environmental Permit (EP) from the Environment Agency (EA), which continues to monitor and enforce the safety standards for the lifetime of the facility. This will contain strict environmental and operating conditions, and the EA will only grant the EP if it is sure that local people and the environment will not be harmed.
The EA carries out regular checks on the facility, some of them unannounced. It also has the power to shut the facility down if it believes it is not being operated correctly.
All emissions from the chimney stack will be continually monitored to ensure they comply with the emissions levels set within the IED, and all emissions data will be collected as part of the conditions of the Environmental Permit.
The system is monitored continuously. If the emission levels start to rise, it will be detected by the continuous emissions monitoring system and the facility control system will automatically make adjustments to the plant to reduce them again. In the unlikely event this does not work, the plant will automatically shut down. This safeguarding system is built into the plant, and is a compulsory feature of the control process.
Q What about starting up and shutting down?
The plant must operate under the same strict permit rules, even when starting up and shutting down. For instance, a minimum temperature (850°C) must be maintained in some parts of the system in order to ensure that pollutants are fully destroyed, and that others are not formed. This is achieved by the use of independent oil-fired burners, which must be available at all times. If these burners are not available and on standby, then the plant is not allowed to operate.
Q What comes out of the chimney stack?
The plant must operate under the same strict permit rules, even when starting up and shutting down. For instance, a minimum temperature (850oC) must be maintained in some parts of the system in order to ensure that pollutants are fully destroyed, and that others are not formed. This is achieved by the use of independent oil-fired burners, which must be available at all times. If these burners are not available and on standby, then the plant is not allowed to operate.
Q What about dioxins and furans?
Dioxins and furans can be produced whenever something is burned, such as cigarettes, barbeques, garden bonfires, industrial furnaces or accidental fires.
The burning or gasification of residual waste in an energy from waste (EfW) plant makes only a very small contribution to existing background levels of dioxins in our environment. Data demonstrates that implementation of stringent regulations for EfW facilities in the EU have resulted in over a 99% reduction in dioxin emissions compared to emissions in 1990; see the following link for supporting information:
This means that neither incineration nor gasification is now no longer a significant source of emissions to air of dioxins and furans, contributing only 2.5% of UK emissions. More significant sources include accidental fires and open burning of waste, the iron and steel manufacturing industry, and crematoria.
According to the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers “The dioxin emission limit value required by IED from an EfW plant is a concentration in the chimney of 0.1 ng/m³ (one billionth of a gram per cubic metre at ambient temperature and pressure). This is an equivalent concentration to one third of a sugar lump dissolved evenly in Loch Ness”.
Q Is it true that people living near such facilities have a higher chance of developing cancer?
There is no scientific peer reviewed evidence to support this claim. No study into the health of communities living near EfW facilities has been able to demonstrate a conclusive link between emissions from an EfW facility and adverse effects on public health. A 2004 UK Government report which considered 23 reputable studies and 4 review papers into the patterns of disease around EfW facilities concluded that the risk of cancer caused by living near an EfW facility is so remote that it is too low to measure; see the following report for more information:
Q What studies have been done into the impact of energy from waste on human health and the environment? Where can I find out more information?
A number of scientific reports have been produced in recent years looking into the health effects of modern energy from waste facilities. Some good examples of non-biased studies are:
AEA’s Review of research into health effects of Energy from Waste facilities undertaken on behalf of the Environmental Services Association concludes that:
“While there is always some uncertainty in the findings of health studies, it is concluded that well- designed EfW facilities as currently operated in the UK are most unlikely to have any significant or detectable effects on cancer incidence, the incidence of adverse birth outcomes (including infant mortality), or the incidence of respiratory disease.”
The Health Protection Agency (the forerunner to Public Health England) review of research undertaken to examine the suggested links between emissions from municipal waste incinerators and effects on health concludes that:
“While it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects from modern, well-regulated municipal waste incinerators with complete certainty, any potential damage to the health of those living close- by is likely to be very small, if detectable. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that modern and well managed municipal waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants. The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has reviewed recent data and has concluded that there is no need to change its previous advice, namely that any potential risk of cancer due to residency near to municipal waste incinerators is exceedingly low and probably not measurable by the most modern techniques. Since any possible health effects are likely to be very small, if detectable, studies of public health around modern, well managed municipal waste Incinerators are not recommended.”
A study published by scientists from King’s College London, Imperial College and the National Physical Laboratory found a minuscule contribution to airborne levels of trace metals and particulate matter from EfW plant. Dr Mark Bloomfield commented on the study as follows:
“At four of the six sites around which the study was based, no contribution could be detected. At two of the six sites, metal ratios consistent with municipal waste incinerator emissions were detected 0.2% and 0.1% of the time. The contribution from the incinerator was no more than about 0.5% of ambient levels, and generally much lower than this. While this was entirely to be expected, it is useful to have confirmation using UK data that uses up to date techniques. The fact that the analysis technique was able to detect a slight contribution (which may have been due to the waste incinerator emissions) is reassuring. If there had been a more significant contribution, this technique would have been able to pick it up.”
Defra has also produced document entitle “Energy from waste – A guide to the debate”, which aims to provide a starting point for discussions about the role energy from waste might have in managing waste:
Q What about very fine particles (nano particles)?
The emissions limit for particles covers particles of all sizes, including ‘nano-particles’, and the emissions of particles from the stack will be continuously monitored. The air quality assessment takes a worst-case approach, assuming the entire particulate emission first to be PM10 (particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns – so including nano-particles), then also assuming the entire particulate emission to be PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns– also including nano-particles), which are generally considered to be the most dangerous particles. In both cases, emissions from the plant will increase local concentrations by less than 1% of the legal limits, an amount deemed “insignificant” by the Environment Agency.
In contrast, 50-60% of ambient air particles and 90% of road vehicle emissions are in the PM2.5 range; nearly all the particles emitted from diesel engines, for example, are less than 1 micron in size.
Q Will there be a visible plume?
Sometimes a plume may be visible from the stack. However, it is not smoke – it is condensed water vapour. However, for the vast majority of the time nothing at all will be seen, as the condensed water is not visible except on very cold days.