Monday, 22 August 2011

Doubts grow on promised health study on incinerators impact

There’s still no news as to when, or even if, the Health Protection Agency [HPA] will make good on its promise to conduct a study into the impact of incinerators on babies and children’s health.

In April HPA Chief Exec Justin McCracken reported that following discussions with the Small Area Health Statistics team at Imperial College, London it had been  “concluded that an epidemiological study of birth outcomes around municipal waste incinerators would have sufficient power to produce reliable results. Work is now progressing in developing a detailed proposal for what will be a complex study.”

This commitment came eight years after then HPA Chief Exec Pat Troop had first promised a study and seven years after a study in Japan concluded that the risk of deaths amongst the youngest declined the further they lived from solid waste incinerators.

A point that has been pretty conclusively confirmed by Michael Ryan from Shrewsbury who despite having a fraction of the resources of the HPA still took the time, and spent his own money, to obtain statistics from the Office of National Statistics on infant mortality rates in thousands of wards across the UK.

Ryan had lost two of his own children, one at 14 weeks, and had considered that their deaths may have been the result of having lived downwind of an incinerator.

An opportunity to confirm that has long since passed but that doesn’t mean Ryan wants to see other parents suffering the same fate, and as part of his campaign he’s sent out hundreds of press releases, contacted MPs by the dozen, spoken at public meetings and generally made a right nuisance of himself in letting “the world know” that publicly available statistics show that in areas where incinerators are sited - and it doesn’t vary depending on the relative income levels - that the levels of infant mortality are above average. In basic language incinerators kill young kids. Probably damage the health of many more.

All of which makes it worrying that many more are on their way, Labour loved them and the Tories and Liberal Democrats are not going to stop anything that stands in the way of economic development, especially during these straitened economic times. And so despite a recent Freedom of Information [1] request
confirming that even the filters at new incinerators fail to prevent the majority of the PM2.5 dangerous particles escaping into neighbourhoods then expect the numbers to have tripled to around 150 by the time this Parliament comes to an end in 2015.

Don’t expect however by then says Ryan to have any results from the proposed study. Pointing out that the HPA also promised a study four years ago Ryan  believes there won’t be such a study “as if there is, then if it’s done with the intent of finding out the truth then it will obtain the area statistics on deaths, put them alongside where incinerators are based and conclude the obvious. That would be dynamite, government’s would need to act and a highly profitable business would face closure and possibly litigation for the damage caused to children’s health.” 

All of which means that whilst the HPA hasn’t done the work it will continue to ‘confirm’ that incinerators are safe as their ‘contribution to air pollution at ground level is likely to be very small.” 

  • Whilst much of Ryan’s work has concentrated on rates of mortality amongst the very young a new US study has just concluded that air pollution from industrial sources damages school children’s health and academic success.

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