Thursday, 31 January 2013

Waste incinerators: off the (Johnny) Ball incident

From the Big Issue in the North magazine

Waste incinerators: off the Ball incident

Concerns about the effects on health of living near waste incinerators are “scare stories”, according to TV personality Johnny Ball, although he did not substantiate a claim that “incinerators are “so healthy and clean they are wonderful.”

Ball made the claim last year when he supported the construction of a £500 million waste-to-energy plant near Haresfield in Gloucestershire. The maths expert, who recently starred on Strictly Come Dancing, had previously attended the opening of the Colnbrook incinerator in Slough, near his home.

Infant mortality 

But campaigners insist particles released from incinerators are a threat to health.

Retired local government officer Michael Ryan has examined the health record of incinerators after he lost two children more than a decade ago and considered their deaths may have been the result of having lived downwind of an incinerator. Since then he has rigorously collected all publicly available statistics and challenged the accepted wisdom that high infant mortality rates can solely be attributed to deprivation and cultural problems. 

Ryan collected infant mortality data for all 625 wards in London between 2002 and 2011.

Nine of these 44 wards are clustered around the Edmonton municipal waste incinerator and ten are downwind of the cluster of incinerators that includes Colnbrook incinerator. 

Other clusters of above 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births include wards around the Kings College Hospital incinerator and the South East London Combined Heat and Power incinerator in Bermondsey.

At the other end of the scale the 59 wards with rates of less than 2 deaths per 1,000 live births are all in locations with minimal exposure to incinerators. 

‘Scare stories.’ 

“I’d like MPs, councillors and the general public to examine the statistics,” said Ryan.

The Big Issue in the North asked Ball whether Ryan’s statistics gave him cause for concern.

Ball replied: “It does seem to me that all the dangers from the outflows from modern incinerators are scare stories from people who for one reason or another – and often that is no more than nimbyism - oppose them, or from so-called greens who reject all new and improved technology out of hand.”

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