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Waste to Energy Incineration: The British Government Ignores the Dangers to Health

(This article first appeared in Autumn 1996 in ToxCat vol 2 No 4, published by Ralph Ryder of the UK)

The British government has begun to push plans to build huge municipal solid waste to energy incinerators in most major cities under the guise of ‘recycling’ facilities.

In 1993 the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, and the Department of Trade and Industry Minister responsible for environmental issues, Patrick McLoughlin, invited the packaging industries of ther United Kingdom to produce a plan for recovering between 50% and 75% of all packaging waste 'their' industries create by the year 2000. The governments main objective appeared to be the “polluter pays” principle under which those who make and sell products (and the packaging around them) would take some responsibility for making productive use of them once they had served their original purpose.

The ministers indicated a willingness to move towards a legislative approach to mandating producers responsibility if necessary, but stated that they would prefer an 'industry led solution.' As a result of this challenge senior representatives from 28 leading companies formed a quango, ‘The Producers Responsibility Group’ (PRG). They proposed to recover 58% of Britain’s packaging waste by building 'close to home' recycling facilities which are in actual fact huge incinerators that use the burning waste to generate heat and electricity.

In order to make this plan economically viable the PRG recommended an extension of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) to cover heat as well as electricity production and the introduction of a landfill levy. This levy has now been introduced omitting certain types of industrial waste.

The PRG also recommended that the planning process be made easier to allow the building of these incinerators, and a time limit on calling a public inquiry and the time taken to reach a decision. The government rejected their recommendation to take the issue of emissions out of the planning process.

The latest scientific findings on the effects of chemicals emitted by incinerators could endanger the scheme so the government, along with the incinerator and related industries, are embarking on a high profile public relations campaign to convince the general public these new incinerators will be perfectly safe and regulated to the highest possible standards.

They have already begun manipulating figures, referring to out-dated data and are being desperately economical with the truth in order to downgrade the very real dangers to public health and the environment.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that incineration is a cause of ill-health, the government is determined to pursue the PRGs plan maintaining the process is now a tried and proven method and 'there is no evidence that incinerators cause ill-health.' The experience of communities around the world however shows the reality is very much different.

The throw-away society, encouraged by government and an industry obsessed with profit, low costs, and what they consider to be progress, means that tremendous pressure is being exerted on the public to accept new technologies with little or no information on their environmental and health impact.

The creditability of the institutions and personnel proposing any new technology is often very important in determining its acceptability by the public. In this case we have a government who, for seventeen years has only ever considered the views of the industrialists; whose record of democracy erosion is frightening; and whose apathy towards the welfare of the sick, aged, and poorest of our society is an absolute disgrace.

Their partners in this scheme are an industry that throughout the world has a history of unsavoury, sometimes even ‘mafia’ connections; that continually uses its power and money to manipulate politicians and control policy makers; that exhibits a complete disregard for the communities who, as a spokesman for one major waste disposal company in Britain, Cleanaway, described as 'a bunch of screaming rabble.'

This is an industry that has used the findings of [proven] fraudulent and faked studies (Kemner v Monsanto) to downgrade the dangers to human health from chemicals emitted by industrial processes including incinerators. For all this, they obviously have all the credentials admired by the present-day government otherwise why should they propose spending £10 million of taxpayers money on the “Research, Development and Promotion” of incineration to guarantee the success of the venture? It will be interesting to see just how much of this £10 million actually goes into R & D and how much into the pocket of some fancy firm of industrial consultants? Who knows, perhaps one of our ministers or other underpaid, overworked politician might get some extra part time consultancy work to supliment their 'poor' MP wage.

Given the track record of both sides of this partnership, and taking into account the experiences of communities living with so-called 'state of the art' incinerators, I believe the public is more than justified to be wary of these proposals.

It is inevitable of course that the views and wishes of the rich engineering industry (who build incinerators), the waste disposal companies (who will operate the plants), and the packaging companies (whose idea it was in the first place and who will produce the extra mountains of packaging waste needed to fuel the plants) will be heard more than the poor and middle class communities targeted as ‘sacrifice zones.’ These communities will have to join forces, form protest groups, and pool their meagre resources and expertise to make their voices heard. Who knows, perhaps these battles will make the apathetic ‘armchair environmentalists’* get off their backsides and do something. It might even wake them up as to just how powerful corporations have become and ask why our government and the law courts protect the rights of industry to pollute more than it protects public health.

Science shows that incineration is a flawed process, a series of ‘hit and miss’- ‘suck it and see’ experiments with the impact on the communities seemingly of little or no consequence. Although communities living in the immediate vicinity of incinerators are understandably most at risk from the emissions, explosions etc., the contamination from these plants is not restricted to a specific locality. Test have shown areas as far as 1,000 miles are impacted directly by the chemical particulates, metals, dioxin, products of incomplete combustion etc., from these plants. Every one of us is consuming the toxins emitted by incinerators via the food chain through fish, beef, milk and other dairy produce. Of grave concern to many doctors and scientists is the womb offers little protection to the unborn child as many of these chemicals can pass through the placental wall and interfere with hormone behaviour during foetal development. Even breast fed infants are being affected as their mothers milk has become contaminated by industrial chemicals and by-products.

*Armchair environmentalists are people who once a year put money in a collection tin or buy a T-shirt off Greenpeace or FoE believing that’s their ‘bit’ for the environment done. They say things like; “I think you are doing a wonderful job and its a good job there are people like you. I’m worried about the way chemicals affect unborn babies and that tigers are endangered, but I’m a very busy person and unfortunately don’t have time to help.”


Despite the evidence available that chemical emissions from incinerators are capable of causing and promoting other toxins to cause, disturbing, crippling and fatal diseases, its supporters still refuse to accept this is a very dangerous process. Dr. Paul Connett (St. Lawrence University) once told me, “These people hope within their hearts there is no ill health around incinerators, they don’t know for sure, and it is not a scientific fact, but they hope it’s not true.” It is obvious to me these people simply don’t care if ill-health is caused and suffered, as long it’s by others. The reason for the lack of documented ill-health around incinerators is not because there isn’t any, as the government and industrialist would have the general public believe. It’s simply because the relevant studies have not been conducted. Much of the data advocates of incineration use to confuse the public come from proven fraudulent studies conducted by scientists working for major international corporations. Asked to conduct a study of papers on the health impacts of incineration, Barry L Johnston, Ph.D. Assistant Surgeon General Assistant, Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testified; “ATSDR often finds itself unable to answer citizens questions about associations between incineration of waste and public health impacts. The scientific information on health impacts of incineration often isn’t available because relevant studies haven’t been conducted. Incineration of wastes should be viewed from a public health perspective in the larger context of generation and management of wastes. Wastes become a public concern when they are improperly managed and disposed of. Therefore, in a public health context, the most protective action is not to produce waste. Waste elimination or minimisation comports with prevention or reduction of health consequences of wastes.”

What data currently exist on health impacts from incinerator emissions of dioxin, furans, lead, mercury and other chemicals you think most relevant? What is the range of health effects and their intensity at likely emission levels? “There are very few data on the actual human health impacts of incinerator emissions on the health of communities near incinerators. Epidemiological investigations have rarely been conducted, nor have studies of disease and illness patterns been undertaken. For example, ATSDR staff conducted a recent literature search of the 10 most frequently used computerised data bases. As part of the search over 1,000,000 entries were identified. Approximately 72,000 of those entries dealt with incineration. Only one (1) single entry discussed the conduct of a population-based study conducted in a community living in the vicinity of an incinerator. In the absence of human health data reliance is placed on using toxicity data for individual substances released into the environment. The effect of any toxic substance depends on factors such as duration of exposure, concentration of the substance in the environment, biological uptake and a person’s susceptability factors (eg., age). All these factors have to be considered in any estimate of impact of incinerator emissions. Adequate information does not exist to support speculation on what, if any, human health effects might be associated with incinerator emissions. However, our experience with public health associations related to hazardous waste sites would suggest the need to conduct two kinds of human health investigations. One kind of investigation would look at cancer, birth defects and respiratory disease rates in areas thought to be impacted by releases from incinerators. A second kind of study would be site specific. Community health surveys would help clarify whether any unusual exposure or morbid-ity is occurring that might be associated with a given incinerator.”

What kind of data do you have or gather on additive, multiple, and synergistic impacts when there is exposure to more than one chemical, as would be the case with incinerator emissions? Do you expect those impacts would be greater than from a single chemical exposure alone? “There are few data available in the scientific literature on specific interactions of contaminates that may be released from waste incinerators (dioxin, furans, lead, mercury). In the absence of specific studies using combined contaminants, and limited understanding of the mechanisms of action for some substances, it is prudent to assume that the effects of exposure to these contaminates is additive.”

What data exist on the sensitivity of various populations, by age, gender or ethnic background, to these chemicals? “Infants and children are arguably the most sensitive segment of the human population to toxic exposures. Infants and children are at special risk because they play outdoors, (*where they spend more time than adults*) they ingest or mouth foreign objects, they are smaller (greater chemical doses per pound) than adults, (*children are nearer the ground than adults and most chemicals are heavier than air*) they also breathe more air, (*25 to 30 times a minute compared to an adults 15*) they are nutritionally challenged (because of protein-calorie requirements to support rapid growth) and they are under going developmental changes that make them especially vulnerable to chemical exposure. Moreover, they have the longest life expectancies during which long-term adverse health effects may manifest. Certain disorders may not become evident until a child reaches a particular developmental stage, which may occur long after the damage was done. Some of the largest environmental health programs (eg. lead, asbestos) are directed at children.” (*Italics are my additional information*)

People of reproductive age. “All women of reproductive age must be included in this population because the most severe effects usually occur during the very early stages of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. In addition pregnant women, especially those with multiple pregnancies, as well as the developing foetus, have increased protein-calorie requirements to support rapid physical growth. The developing foetus is particularly sensitive to chemical exposure. Exposure to chemicals has the greatest impact on those functions undergoing the most active development at the time of exposure.(see Toxcat vol 2 no 3). Animal studies and some human studies show that there are critical foetal development stages during which chemical exposure can cause permanent and devastating effects. There is also a small, but growing scientific literature that implicates some toxicants as causing effects on male reproductive processes. For example, laboratory animal studies have shown that exposure to lead causes adverse reproductive outcomes in male rats, leading to effects on neurologic function in the offspring of the males. Similarly, PCBs in fish and waterfowl have been reported to cause feminine features in the male of these species.” (see Toxcat vol 2 no 2).

Elderly persons and persons with chronic illnesses. “Elderly persons and the chronically ill tend to be more susceptible to respiratory irritants. Long standing public health policies such as immunisation guidelines for influenza support this notion. The elderly are also nutritionally challenged, often due to reduced protein-calorie intake and combined with the metabolic changes that occur during this stage of life. Underlying illnesses such as is the case in the chronically ill may increase their susceptibility to particular toxicants. For example, persons with chronic diseases of the kidney system may experience more harmful effects from exposure to renal toxicants such as lead and cadmium compared to a healthy individual.

”What are the most serious data gaps that prevent us from determining the exact health impacts from incineration? “The data that impede an accurate assessment of the public health impact of incineration can be divided into two categories; those associated with the technology and the facility itself, and those related to environmental health. Following are examples of some key data gaps in both categories. Also listed are actions that should be considered in order to ensure the protection of the public’s health. These data gaps and recommended actions are based on ATSDR’s experience in providing consultations concerning hazardous waste incinerators. Key data gaps associated with the incineration technology/facility include: 1) The often inadequate identification and quantification of waste feed as well as fugitive emissions associated with specific incinerator facilities. 2) The deposition rates to soil and water for all potential incinerator stack emissions are not well known. 3) The identification and quantification of emissions during incinerator process upsets are frequently not measured. 4) When stack emissions are analysed for metals the specific metal compounds or species present are not usually identified. 5) Concentrations of contaminates in environmental samples around incinerator facilities, eg. soil, water and ambient air are typically not measured. 6) There are limitations in the current stack testing, air monitoring and air modelling methods. Some of these methodologies need further validation. 7) Often there is a lack of data on the concentration of contaminates present in foods that are grown near a facility, such as vegetables from gardens, cattle, fish or shellfish etc.

The second category of data gaps concerns the area of environmental health. Key data gaps in this area include; 1) Limited demographic and health data on the surrounding community. 2) Lack of environmental data such as types and concentrations of contaminates present and the environmental media contaminated. 3) Limited number of exposure, health monitoring and surveillance activities in communities living near operating incinerator facilities. 4) Data gaps in our knowledge about the adverse health effects from specific substances. 5) Toxicologic data on the mixture of substances from incinerators. Efforts by federal and state environmental and health agencies are underway to address a few number of these data gaps. In addition to these efforts, attempts should be made to coordinate and collaborate in order to maximise the results in each individual area of data needed...

”(1)80,000 Chemicals Among the many interesting observations in Dr Johnson’s statement to note is: “In the absence of human health data reliance is placed on using toxicity data for individual substances released into the environment. There are somewhere in the region of 80,000 chemicals in use daily throughout industry. Knowledge of the toxic properties of most of these chemicals is poor or non-existent. There is some reliable toxicological data on the effects of perhaps 5,000 chemicals on animals in laboratory conditions, while sound information on environmental impact is probably restricted to only a few hundred. A substantial amount of toxicity data is withheld from the public and independent research scientists’ by industry supposedly due to “commercial confidentiality.”

Suppose we wanted to study 2 chemical combinations among the most commonly used 500 industrial chemicals. To do this we would have to do 124,749 different experiments. To study 3 chemical combinations among only 100 of these chemicals would require an amazing 20.7million experiments.(REHW #447) An impossible task? Not according to a chemist from the CIA speaking at a meeting held in Wallasey (Wirral) in 1995. He claimed “we have the technology to test each individual chemical for its environmental/health impact.” I can only assume he was after a bit of extra overtime.(1) Waste Not 276-277.

New High Standards

The British government maintains that the process of incineration has undergone major environmental improvements in recent years. They say incinerators are now capable of achieving very high standards in terms of reduced emission, and will be regulated to very high standards using the very latest technology. We have heard this many times before. The experience of the communities of Bonnybridge, Ellesmere Port, Pontypool and now Wolverhampton, has taught us statements like this are pure wishful thinking. Every incinerator ever built has been deemed ‘state of the art.’ This term means simply “the best we can do today.” No incinerator operator will ever admit to their incinerator being even partly “experimental” although they will admit to the introduction of new technology into the process/plant. This latest round of incinerators are just a continuation of the experiment with the local community the guinea pigs to their effects. Even the latest waste to energy incinerator put forward as a wonderful example of modern technology, the South East Lewisham Combined Heat & Power (SELCHP) is not without it’s problems, although the management strangely develop deafness when questioned about this during my visit there last year. The minutes of one of the local liaison group meetings contains reports of a loud roar “like Concord taking off” on numerous occasions throughout the night. They were also having major problems with vibrations so bad it made shaving impossible for one resident living near-by. When I questioned the management about this they denied any knowledge of the noise problem, (which I found bewildering as they produce the minutes). I put it to them that perhaps they were “having trouble maintaining the correct temperature in the kiln and were having to use a back-up fuel?” (This would account for the roaring sound). They emphatically denied this and any knowledge of a roaring noise. (I presume it is still in the minutes for all to see?)

During this visit along with Maddie Cobbing (Greenpeace), Alan Watson (FoE), and Robert Allen (An Talamh Glas), I saw a piece of newspaper among the ash still intact and large enough to read. Surely if this incinerator can’t even destroy a simple newspaper completely, what chance has it got of destroying more toxic materials completely and safely?

We asked but were refused permission to take samples of the 130,00 tonnes p.a. of ash the facility produces. Management said we would get a false reading “due the dust within the ash bay?” They told us that a similar plant in France was hopeful they would be allowed to use the ash in road building. They maintain that if the fly ash is left to ‘mature’ for 3 months the heavy metals it contains become “unleachable.”

Some incinerator companies like SELCHP have plans to build small, genuine, recycling plants next to some of the huge incinerators. I believe this is purely a cosmetic gesture to make the public think they are genuinely concerned about recycling and are “environmentalists”, maintaining incineration is just part of an “integrated waste management plan.” If being an [industrial] environmentalist means you consider releasing tonnes of health damaging chemicals and heavy metals over a 25-30 year period, while burning finite resources we should be sharing with future generations as acceptable, then God save us from such environmentalists.

ANTI-INCINERATION ACTIVISTS "LAZY & ILLOGICAL." Advocates of incineration will say and do anything in order to discredit the names of decent, well meaning citizens who dare to speak out against them. Scaremongers, alarmist, even ‘politically motivated’ are some of the slurs used. Even some so-called ‘Greens’ have had their heads turned at one time or another by the industrial PR machine. Ex-Friend of the Earth worker turned boss Johnathon Porritt insulted anti-incineration campaigners in a national newspaper a couple of years ago saying that our arguments are often “misguided or ill informed” and that we are “lazy and illogical.” I wonder when Mr Porritt last woke up coughing to find the emissions from an incinerator or cement works swirling around his bedroom? When he last had to close all the windows because the smell and fumes were unbearable? When he last had to run indoors to avoid inhaling the emissions as went about his daily work or as he sat in his garden enjoying the sunshine? I feel sure that had this gentleman taken the time to speak to a member of Communities Against Toxics or anyone else who has lived or worked alongside an incinerator for years, he might not have been so quick to publicly condemn people about something he obviously knows very little about - living with an incinerator. Every community activist I’ve ever met has been genuinely concerned about the health problems and believes the community should have all the facts about incineration, not just what politicians and industrialists have to say.

For all politicians, industrialists and Mr Porritt cast slurs upon anti- incineration activists, the publication of the United States Environmental Protection Agencies three year reassessment of dioxin, proved that the misguided, ill-informed, lazy and illogical hat fits these people more readily than the activists fighting incinerators. This, the most extensive scientific study ever undertaken on a chemical by-product, using all the available literature not just selected papers confirmed that incinerators are a major source of dioxin contamination in the environment. Its findings are being ignored by the British government, its scientists and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) (another quango). This group has concluded that nothing has emerged from the EPA reassessment that could cause them to alter the views they expressed in their 17th report published in May 1993 before the reassessment was completed.

When I spoke to Dr. Paul Connett about the RCEP report he told me, “They seemed to think I was some know-all Yank. When I spoke to them one of the group waived his hand as if flicking at a fly and brushing aside what I had to say with “we know all that!- we know all that!” “Well Ralph they didn’t know all that! If a student of mine brought me a paper like that I would strike a line through it and tell them to go away and read the literature. Oh! this report is so poor, they didn’t do their homework.”

I believe the RCEP is a prime example of outdated “British superiority and arrogance.” This group of people consider themselves so knowledgeable they can ignore the findings of three years research by over 100 specialists. Surely there is no more reliable source of knowledge on a subject than the leading academic authorities in a particular field? Anyone who thinks otherwise is apt to reject the whole body of modern science. If opinions diverge among equally competent and trustworthy scientists are we wrong to believe the view that draws the assent of most as being the one most likely to be correct, especially if it has a substantial majority on its side?

The problem is of course that economical and political factors influence the prominence of a position within the scientific community, depending very often on who pulls the purse string. The notion that all scientists are paragons of virtue in the search for the truth went out of the window years ago in the dioxin and incineration debate.

One scientist shouting the virtues of modern waste to energy incinerators (and who will no doubt be quoted many times in the future by government officials and industry) is brushing aside anti-incinerator activists arguments about the levels of emissions from old incinerators saying they are “completely irrelevant today because of modern technology and increased scientific knowledge.” He has not a shred of evidence to support the often repeated claim that a “well designed, well maintained and properly operated incinerator would not endanger human health and the environment.” He refuses to accept the EPA reassessment accusing it, and obviously the many scientists involved in the research of being “biased and flawed.”

Logically, you should ask yourself why this scientist can accept one side of modern science in a particular field so wholeheartedly, yet condemn, even trash, three years extensive research in a parallel field, by over 100 eminent scientists from outside the EPA, (as well as their own in-house scientists)? He prefers to quote selected European research papers over 6 years old.

WHAT AN INCINERATOR EMITS Some of the things we know about!

Standards for emissions from incinerators are set in a political process and not at levels expected to result in no ill-health. A Pace University study for the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority and the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that waste to energy incinerators emit SOx, NOx, HCI, mercury, lead, cadmium, copper and arsenic at higher rates per kWh generated than a well controlled coal fired plant. (Pace Univ 1990).

Industry still continues producing and disposing of chemicals with no idea of their environmental or health impact. Many of the chemicals being emitted by incinerators are known to work in different, frightening ways to cause ill-health. The regulatory system has not yet caught up with the concept of endocrine disrupting chemicals and consequently does not take them into consideration. It remains to be seen when the government will acknowledge the danger and how it will regulate them.

Metals: Metals, being elements, can be neither degraded nor metabolised, they are examples of ultimate persistence. The metals that have severely affected ecological or human health in the last 25 years include lead, mercury, cadmium, selenium and tin. Of these tin, selenium and cadmium are new problems in the sense that their presence in the environment had not previously been considered a hazard. The toxicity of lead and mercury was thought to have been known for many years but some scientists now believe their effects have been underestimated. Antimony: Acute inhalation exposure to antimony causes irritation of the nose and mouth, abnormalities in the circulatory system and disruption of the respiratory tract. Chronic exposure may result in cardiac lesions and lung changes.

Arsenic: Arsenic is an established human carcinogen. Lung cancer is regarded as the critical effect following inhalation exposure.

Cadmium: Cadmium is a silvery white brittle metal. It has no role in living systems but is used increasingly in numerous industries. Causes cancer in rats and 5 ppm in drinking water shortened rats lives by 15%. Inhalation of 40mg with retention of 5mg is fatal to humans. In Japan, cadmium from a smelter contaminated irrigation water leading to a disease named itai-itai (or ouch-ouch) because of the extreme pain. Short term exposure to high levels of inhaled cadmium causes respiratory effects such as pneumonitis. Oral exposure to high levels results in severe gastrointestinal upsets. It has been linked epidemiologically to prostate cancer in humans. The long term effects of continual exposure to inhaled cadmium include emphysema, anaemia and cancer.

Chromium: Chromium V1 is a known carcinogen causing lung cancer via inhalation and possibly digestive tract cancer via ingestion.Cobalt: Its toxic effects include lung irritation, immunological deficiency, heart disease, cancer and death.Copper: Intake of excessively large doses of copper causes ill effects such as mucosal irritation/corrosion, capillary damage, liver and kidney toxicity and disruption of the central nervous system.

Dioxin & Furans: 2,3,7,8, TCDD has been described as “the most toxic chemical known to man.” With regard to carcinogenicity, a weight of the evidence evaluation suggests that dioxin and related compounds (CDDs, CDFs and dioxin-like PCBs) are likely to present a cancer hazard to humans. Cancer however is not the worst illness to be caused by dioxin; immune system and reproductive effects appear to occur at body burdens approximately 100 times lower than those associated with cancer. Current exposure levels appear to place people at or near a body burden where sensitive responses may occur, especially for nursing infants and recreational and subsistence anglers. Established international peer- approved scientific research demonstrates that dioxin and dioxin-like compounds can be expected to have tran-generational non-cancer effects in wildlife and humans including: Disruption of endocrine hormone systems, especially those related to sexual development: specifically by mimicking, interfering with, or amplifying the effects of estrogen, especially during foetal development. The seriousness of the problem is exacerbated by the extremely low levels of hormones produced naturally by the endocrine system which are needed to change and induce the appropriate responses. Advances in technology has revealed that some man-made chemicals are present in tissue at concentrations it was not previously possible to measure with conventional analytical methods, but at concentrations which are biologically active. The developing brain exhibits specific and often narrow windows of development during which exposure to endocrine disruptors can produce permanent damage in its structure and function. The timing of exposure is crucial during early developmental stages when a fixed sequence of structural change is occurring and before protective mechanisms have developed. Interference with the thyroid gland during the first ten weeks means the brain isn’t wired up correctly. A variety of chemical exposures early in life can lead to profound and irreversible abnormalities in brain development at exposure levels that not do produce permanent effects in adults. Dioxin can have far reaching and serious effects on the reproductive system. Endometriosis, a disease in which cells from the lining of the uterus grow in inappropriate places outside of the uterus. These cells respond to the monthly menstrual cycle and bleed causing severe pain. Damage to the developing immune system, leading to increased susceptability to infectious diseases. There is evidence that the developing immune system is one of the most sensitive to disruption by low level exposure to dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals. There are two ways the immune system can malfunction through chemical disruption: 1) It can be depressed and fail to protect you against bacteria, parasites, viruses and cancer. 2) It can become too active and start to attack you. This creates auto-immune disease like asthma, diabetes and lupus.Hydrogen Chlorine: Is an eye irritant and at high concentrations causes pulmonary oedema and laryngeal spasms.

Hydrogen Fluoride: Human exposure to greater than 3ppm have shown redness of the skin, burning/irritation of the nose and throat and digestive disorders.

Lead: Lead is inherently toxic and has no useful function in the mammalian organism. Acute poisoning causes intestinal cramps, renal failure, sterility, irreversible brain damage (cerebral palsy and mental retardation and anaemia. In milder cases, tiredness, irritability, abdominal pain, anaemia and in children behavioural changes. Long term exposure appears to be decreased neurological development in children and increased blood pressure and hypertension in adults. Children below six are at the greatest risk resulting in greater incidence of mouthing behaviour, greater gastrointestinal absorption of lead, incomplete development of the blood-brain barrier and greater sensitivity to neurological and haematological effects since the placenta is an ineffective barrier to the entry of lead into the foetus. Pregnant mothers are also a high risk group. Some scientists now believe that there is no safe threshold for the developmental toxicology for lead.

Mercury: Mercury as a element is indestructible. Mercury vapour causes tremors and erethism, a disease which involves a variety of psychological difficulties including short term memory loss and social withdrawal. Methylmercury also acts on the nervous system, and in particular the sensory and coordination centres. In Iraq 459 people died and 6,530 illnesses were reported following consumption of methylmercury treated grain during a famine. Many of the uses of mercury have been eliminated but the waste accumulated from past production cannot be easily cleaned up. Foetal exposure to methylmercury has shown to cause cerebral palsy.

Nickel: Inhalation of all forms of nickel causes irritation, lesions and various immunological responses. It is allergenic, some forms are carcinogenic and it has been shown to cause birth defects in certain species of animals.

Thallium: Is one of the most toxic elements and is capable of causing lethal effects due to its degenerative action on nerve fibres.

(This is by no means a full, comprehensive list of chemicals emitted by incinerators).

The public are told that high temperature will destroy all dioxin and the pollution equipment will take care of the chemical emissions. They won’t be told that some of those mentioned (and a great many that aren’t) will pass straight into the environment especially during upset conditions, emergencies etc. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA 1986) concluded: “For MSW plants, the health effects are very large: large enough that in the absence of offsetting environmental benefits society would not choose MSW as a generating source.” The very large health effects are 2 deaths per year around a small 400 Mg/day incinerator in BPA’s “expected” case. The high case gave 8 deaths per year. This was taken on the assumption that 75,000 people would be exposed to the emissions. Many more than that number will be exposed to the emissions from the planned facilities in Britian.

For information on the effects of chemicals see Toxic Substances in the Environment. B Magnus Francis John Wiley & SonsISBN 0-471-50781-4

IF ITS SO HIGH TECH! WHY SO MANY INCIDENTS? I believe the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollutions' argument for the increased use of incineration is based on the PRGs envisaged increase in packaging waste (150,000 tonnes p.a up to 350,000 tonnes by the year 2000). They also maintain the new generation of incinerators will be operated to very high environmental standards.

Of course if the science of incineration today is as wonderful as the RCEP maintain, perhaps they could explain why there are so many emergencies and accidents at one of the new facilities they speak so highly of? The latest state of the art hazardous waste incinerator at Ellesmere Port came on line in the early 1990s and is operated by a company many consider to be the leaders in waste disposal technology in the UK. In theory it should be easier to destroy toxic waste by incineration than thousands of tonnes of mixed rubbish as one would assume the operators should know what concentrations of chemicals is in each drum of waste.(see Toxcat vol 2 no 1) This being the case you would think there would be no problems at this plant. Not so! Already it has a history of malfunctions with six (6) incidents of chemical emissions from the stack witnessed in one month alone (May 1992). Another reported incident (Toxcat vol 2 no 1) occurred on Wednesday September 20th 1995, when residents had a sharp reminder of the danger of acting as hosts/hostages to the countries largest toxic waste incinerator.

At 9.44am the clear blue sky above the town turned to a deep purple as the incinerator pumped the chemical iodine into the atmosphere. The expanding purple cloud rolled slowly over the residential area and although the waste feed into the incinerator was reported to have been stopped at the first sign of trouble, there was nothing the company could do about the waste already in the kiln. The chemical continued to be emitted in an ever growing cloud over the town until 10.00 am. This visible failure of the technology of chemical waste incineration really brought it home to the people of the town the enormous amount of emissions that come from the stack and cover their homes day in and day out, 24 hours a day. A large portion of the town was covered by the cloud and thousands of homes, people out walking, including young mothers with their babies, even pets had been contaminated before the chemical dispersed. “It’s frightening when you actually see how much of the town is covered by the fumes from the incinerator,” said Debbie Taylor, a young mother in the town, “most people only ever think of the emissions going straight up and away but this cloud was dropping lower onto the houses and streets all the time. God knows what chemicals the cloud contained and what damage they might have done to peoples health.”

“Gone are the days when you could put a baby outside in its pram,” said Sandra Ewin as she held her four week old grandson Michael. “It’s getting so you don’t know what’s going into the air around here, it’s the children you worry about, their breathing it in.” Mrs. Ewin had been out walking with her daughter Melinie when the cloud came billowing out of the chimney stack. “It was just a big cloud of purple/pink and lasted about ten minutes or so.” said Mr. Ewin.

“A company statement said: “All materials awaiting burning are being re-checked for iodine content before recommencement of operations. Ground level concentrations of the emissions would not have had any environmental and safety implications.”

The last part of the statement is of course pure speculation and not a scientific fact. The operators of the incinerator have no idea of the concentrations of the chemicals in the drum or in the escaping cloud. Reports on the test burn (ENDS May 1991)) showed the operators were having trouble with the amount of fine particulates being emitted due to the high level of combustion achieved. These particles are considered the most damaging to human health as they travel straight to the bottom of the lungs entering the blood stream easily. It is my understanding that it was 18 months before any additional filters were fitted with HMIP taking no action to enforce the operators to reduce the particulate emissions. The only action ever taken against the company inspite of the many incidents has been a minor ‘slap on the wrist’ by the Health & Safety Exceutive (HSE) over the slackness of their work permit procedure that led to one of the incidents.

“I find it bewildering that this incinerator so impressed the members of the RCEP given its history of emergencies and operator errors. Unless of course these weren’t mentioned? Or perhaps the RCEP didn’t think to ask if there had been any problems during their visit to the plant? Their statement “they were very impressed with this particular companies ‘openness’ towards the local community” is based on the fact there is a liaison group on which one local residents group has a couple of members. (who never report back to the general public). Most of the other participates are Cheshire County Councillors with the chairman none other than councillor D T Bateman.

Speaking so highly of the plant and its relationship with the public it is not surprising to find there is no mention in the RCEP report of the 7,000+ signatures against the building of the plant in 1988, or the demonstration and march through the town against its operations in 1992 by over 300 residents. Neither is there a mention of over 16,000 signatures from the residents of E Port against incineration and the import and export of toxic waste handed into No 10 Downing Street the same year.

This is what activists’ mean when they speak of “selected information” being made available to the public.


In its efforts to sell its plans to the public the Government intends to provide information about the technological and operational best practice of incineration. They will no doubt provide a wonderful array of selected scientific information and glossy brochures to back up their claims. In reality scientists simply don’t know a fraction of the chemicals that come from the process with Products of Incomplete Combustion (PICs) upsets etc. Thankfully more people are willing to accept the fact that the government will skip over any scientific evidence that goes against their interests. As Paul Connett so rightly says; “As long as it suits their purpose science is king, when it doesn’t, policy is king. They play with a double sided coin.”

The government listens to their own specialists who tell them just what they want to hear. They will always find someone to say a process is safe, the beef fiasco proved that. Professor Richard Lacy said about the governments stance on BSE; “They identify the people whose views are concordant with their policy”.

Dr. Stephen Dealler said; “If you wanted someone to tell you just what you wanted to hear you could find someone”.

More often than not this person is likely to be a scientist whose research is funded by either the government or industry. We all accept that smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, yet tobacco companies can still find people with a science degree who will look straight into a TV camera and say, “I am not aware of any convincing evidence that tobacco causes cancer.”

The figure of a 90% reduction in volume often quoted by supporters of incineration is misleading. This refers to the difference in the volume of waste arriving at the incinerator and the volume of ash leaving it. As far as volume savings at the landfill are concerned other factors have to be taken into account. Not all the material in the waste stream can be burned, ie refrigerators. Some are non-processable and too large to go into the incinerator. Regular waste at a landfill gets compacted and the true figure is probably closer to a 60-70% reduction in landfill space. This makes the extension of a landfill site 2 or 3 fold. Not the 10 fold extensions the 90% figure implies.

Ash The ash produced by incinerators contains highly toxic substances. For each 3 tons of waste burnt there is one ton of highly toxic ash to dispose of. The better the air pollution devices, the more contaminated the ash becomes. Some companies talk of using this ash in building (breeze blocks) and in road construction. It is highly likely the government will be persuaded into relaxing standards for toxins in ash to permit this. The government say they are proposing to encourage recycling, yet incineration is universally accepted as an ‘end of the pipe’ technology. One idea really defeats the other. How does the government propose to make incineration acceptable and attractive to an increasingly environmentally aware public? Simply by convincing them that incinerators are “recycling” facilities? Does this mean we can call a coal fire a recycling facilities because after all you get hot water and heat from it?

Risks & Benefits Communities will hear industry making statements like “this is not our waste, it’s not industries waste, it’s societies waste.”

They say this as if we have asked them to produce all the products that are so difficult to dispose of safely without causing ill-health and environmental degradation. While we all agree there is no such thing as a risk free world perhaps we should look at just who takes the risks and who benefits from having an incinerator in their back yard. In Britian towns like Ellesmere Port, Southampton, Cleveland, Birmingham etc., have had the risks for years but the people living there don’t seem to have a very high standard of living. Obviously from the ill-health, high unemployment and poverty in these areas they are getting very little of the so called 'benefits.'

FAIRNESS What about the equity (fairness) of the issue? If the people who benefit most also bear the risks then equity is satisfied. If the benefits accrue to one group ie. incinerator builders/operators, while the local people and their children bear the risk of contaminated water, food, milk, breast milk, possible child malformation, increased cancers and respiratory diseases etc., surely adjustments have to be made? Preferably in the forms of safeguards against this type of damage? But what if no safeguards exist for many of the chemicals causing the problems? What if the risks are irreversible? Incinerators cause cancers, cancers cause death, death is irreversible. Incinerators emit endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can cause malformation of a child during foetal development. This is irreversible and that child carries that deformity till death. Contamination of the local food and water supply is also irreversible.

Jobs versus Health When talking of ‘risks versus benefits.’ Do you consider gaining 25 to 30 jobs worth putting the health and well being of 60-80,000 people and their future generations in jeopardy? I certainly do not.

Jobs and cheaper, sometimes free, heating to certain establishments ie. hospitals, old peoples homes/flats, is promised as a lure to the community to accept a waste to energy facility. Industries “risk assessments” are based on data and, as Dr Johnson stated in his presentation, the data on incinerator impact is very scant. We human do not come as ‘standard.’ We are not all uniform. Some of us are not as well as others, some are more sensitive to different toxins. No tests have been conducted on a person with respiratory illness, cancer, kidney or some other disease. It is impossible to predict the effect an incinerator will have on this section of our society. This is obviously of no consequence to the politicians within the British Government and their friends in industry. The enormous cost of building an waste to energy incinerator (£100 million) and running costs (£400,000 a year) make this an incredibly expensive operation.

The PRGs and governments plan is only possible through large taxpayers subsides via the None Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO). The communities have to pay a higher rate to dispose of their waste at the incinerator than they did sending it to landfill. They will also have to pay a premium rate for the electricity produced by the plant rather than a coal fired power plant. All this amounts to an increased cost to the public and an incredible amount of guaranteed profit for the company operating the incinerator.

"The economics of incineration as a renewable source of energy are quite simply it could add up to 22p on each unit of electricity to the consumer. "(MANWEB (Electricity producer) spokesman Agenda 21 meeting Cheshire County Council)

Industry continually talk of the benefits of burning plastic products (ie.PVC) because of its high calorific value although this practice poises a very real danger to health. PVC producers like the European Vinyls Corporation (EVC) are already maintaining that “due to important advances the presence of PVC in the waste stream does not affect the ability of the incineration process to meet all the (economically set) regulatory standards.”

Industrialists will undoubtedly encourage excessive production, use and the discarding of these materials by incineration in the future. More than 120,000,000 computers (that’s over 300,000 tons of electronic junk) are disposed of annually in the U.S.A. Much of this is shipped to China and burned, releasing vast amounts of highly toxic chemicals such as dioxin and benzene into the environment. Only 3% of electronic junk is currently refurbished and recycled.

The government talk about incineration as a method of “sustainable” waste management. This is a ludicrous statement when the process releases metals and toxins, many persistent, bio- accumulative,with a half-life of decades, and so harmful that even in minuscule amounts they can cause irreversible damage to health. They also propose to “assess when the technologies of incineration will become cost effective” & “establishing an initial market via the NFFO.”

How can this or any technology ever become cost effective when it relies on large subsides from the taxpayer to make it viable? What is very worrying, and yet another swipe at what masquerades as “democracy” in Britain today is the government would like to remove what it and the PRG considers “inappropriate legislative and administrative barriers” to enable easier building of these incinerators. To alter legislation to suit industrialists’ and developers’ against the wishes of the community is becoming all too common in this country today.

Communities Against Toxics is opposed to all increases in waste disposal capacity. We see this planned incinerator expansion programme as short sighted, environmentally irresponsible and a waste of finite resources. We would like to see the Government include a programme pursuing a national strategy to reduce wastes at source and more financial encouragement to local authorities to build facilities for sorting and genuine recycling of waste. Industry as a whole should be encouraged to reduce the amount of waste it produces and penalised for producing excessive amounts and wastes that are difficult or impossible to dispose of without causing environmental damage. This will encourage more investment in clean production and environmentally friendly technology. This penalty should also apply to any product put onto the market that is difficult to dispose of safely. Excessive use of packaging by industry is a major cause of the mountains of waste produced every year and the seeds of this plan of incineration expansion. Producers of packaging should be encouraged to reduce the amount used and products wrapped in excess packaging should have a tax levied against them. This would be payable by the producer, not the consumer. Packaging should be made with materials that can be easily recycled or are bio-degradable. The only way to solve the problem of waste is to encourage reduction, reuse, recycling and composting. The government is laying too much emphasis on waste-to-energy as the Best Practical Environmental Option (BPEO). If the money spent on building and running one of these facilities for 25 years was invested in a recycling centre, the return and benefits to the community and the environment would far outweigh whatever benefits incineration could conceivably have. The government is again showing an unhealthy concern with the short term economic costs to industry than the long term gains of reduction, recycling and public health.

The government and industrial scientists will undoubtedly continue to cast doubt upon valid scientific information about the damaging effects of incinerators and declare “we haven’t enough proof at the moment.”

They are simply hiding behind the veil of the impossible search for scientific certainty and what we call ‘cigarette science.’ This is a scientific study that serves the needs of a particular industry that finds it’s self faced with scientific evidence damaging to it’s interests.

Past experience has shown there will be no-one to listen and help the public when things go wrong at these incinerators. Once built they will continue pumping out heavy metals, chemical particulates, dioxin etc. for decades. The burden of proof the plant is causing ill- health will fall on the community who will get no assistance whatsoever from the government, local environmental/health authorities or regulatory officials. Incineration is a process conceived and designed to suit the selfish, wasteful, throw-away chemical/plastics and associated industries. Environmentally friendly alternatives have been deliberately forced off the market. Society has been drawn into wasteful ways with many throw-away products forced upon them. Financially motivated politicians with too many interests outside Westminster encourage these industries to continue as such. These elected representatives come and go with the peoples whim at voting time, their responsibilities seemingly over when their ‘honourable’ position come to an end as they fall out of favour with the public. The mistakes they have made while they were in office remain for many years. This incinerator programme, if allowed to continue, will be one of the costliest and most damaging mistakes ever.

As an environmental organisation CATs will do all it can to assist the communities targeted as ‘hostages’ to protect their health, their environment and the future of their children.

© R Ryder TC Publishing, nonprofit grass roots media help yourselves.

************************************************************************* Communities Against Toxics Tel 0151 339 5473 PO Box 29 Tel/Fax 0151 201 6780 Ellesmere Port Email South Wirral L66 3TX. United Kingdom

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