Wednesday, 22 June 2011

What's happening with the proposed incinerator emission study?

The exact details of the proposed study on the impact of incinerator emissions on public heath are still months away from being announced. This is to be conducted on behalf of the Health Protection Agency [HPA] by a team from the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London led by Professor Brian Elliott, whose secretary said:  “We are still talking to the HPA about what it will involve, so nothing is confirmed yet.”

Whilst at present the HPA is maintaining its stance that incinerators pose little risk to public health the fact that they have failed, despite previous promises, to conduct any studies to prove this to be the case must inevitably cast doubt on such a view. Especially when it is known that properly organised studies conducted overseas - such as in Japan in 2004 - prove the exact opposite.

Shasha Khan is the co-ordinator of Croydon Green Party and also a founder member of the Stop the South London incinerator campaign.  He would “very much welcome” a study, especially as one of his nearest relatives, who lived close to the Edmonton incinerator in North London, is dying of lung cancer even though she never smoked. He doesn’t know if the emissions from it are the cause but is curious to find out.

“We need to finally understand if there is an impact from incinerators and we need a study which has the resources to do it properly. Let’s hope we are not too far away from this happening. I can’t see how the bodies that license incinerators can say they are safe because they haven’t conducted any studies to demonstrate that is the case” says Shasha who stressed that he also objects to incinerators on cost grounds and the fact that they reduce waste recycling levels.

“Incinerator’s are being built under the Private Finance Initiative that ties councils into 20-25 year contracts whereby they promise to supply a certain amount of waste or the cash equivalent. As the world’s population is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 there will be an awful lot of waste and we need international co-ordination to ensure we recycle much more than we currently manage to do. Plenty of what we burn could be re-used,” says Shasha.

Shlomo Dowen, national co-ordinator of the campaign body UK without incinerators [UKWIN] makes many of the same points when asked about the proposed study. As he was quoted in the Sunday Express article of May 1st at

then I express my surprise that he appears not to have informed the various groups dotted around the UK of its contents or the study - and certainly there’s nothing on the UKWIN site as of today. [June 22nd

He states this is because “the scientific method is stacked against us if we have to prove damage. Even if every single incinerator was surrounded by a string of dead people they could say it was due to something else. My job is to work with local groups and there’s nothing such groups can do to change the government view that these are safe. Even if we all agree it’s a wrong policy once a group makes that argument at a planning meeting they are told it’s not a material planning reason. We need to go with what is effective and the recent Rainworth decision
proves that we can win without the health arguments.”

Confused by such a line of argument and aware that in the Sunday Express article he mentions health as one of the reasons against incinerators I ask Shlomo what he thinks about Michael Ryan’s work
In my case Ryan has caused me to re-examine some of my views on the link between infant mortality levels and deprivation as it seems pretty clear that where incinerators are sited the number of deaths rise.

“The HPA should look at Michael’s work. His thesis is that incinerators and other industrial processes have a causal effect in that when they turn out emissions people breath it in and they become ill. According to that if the incinerators were switched off then those people wouldn’t die. Yet there was a period of years during the 1990s when they were in fact switched off to upgrade their filters to make them in line with European Union regulations and at that time there was no equivalent drop in the levels of infant mortality” said Shlomo Dowen. 

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