The Human Health Risks of Incineration

Why incinerators can be harmful to health

Incinerators do not eliminate waste.

Instead, they burn relatively inert waste and convert it into gases, ash and dust particles. These products are then dumped or distributed through the environment.

The potentially harmful products are:

POPs (persistent organic products) especially dioxins and furans

Particulates especially the fine and ultrafine particles

Dioxins are released to air or captured by the filter mechanisms.

The captured dioxins are dumped in a hazardous waste site. In Sutton Courtenay, this will be a pit close to the old Amey site. This pit is to be constructed in a gravel aquifer and, if and when it leaks, risks pollution to the water supply. Prior to that, evaporation and blowing away of contaminated dred ash is inevitable.

The particulates are a proven cause of air pollution, which are in turn known to increase mortality and morbidity of the affected population.

The most dangerous particle are the very fine ones, which frequently evade the filtration bags used in the incinerators.

“The kind of harm caused to human beings by low levels of POPs – cancer, immune-system disruption, nervous-system damage, liver damage, memory loss, endocrine disruption, birth defects, other reproductive problems – can be difficult to prove conclusively. It is hard to demonstrate that someone’s immune system is weaker thanit might have been, let alone that a particular chemical is the culprit. Nervous-system damage may result in something as basic and yet as nebulous as a lower level of intelligence. Once again, this can be hard to demonstrate beyond challenge.”

“ We are left in little doubt that long-term exposure to air pollutants has an effect on mortality and thus decreases life expectancy.”

“The evidence as a whole points strongly to an association between long term exposure to particulate air pollution and effects on mortality.”

“It is our view that the associations reported in the literature linking long-term exposure to particulate air pollution, represented by PM2.5 and effects on mortality ….are highly likely to be causal…”

We think that the large American Cancer Study (ACS) ….forms the best source of coefficients suitable for application to the UK. The results of this study have been exposed to the most searching examination and have been found to be robust to reanalysis.”

“The evidence also points to PM2.5 as the most satisfactory index of particulate air pollution…”

“Evidence relating to the possible effects of long-term exposure to the common air pollutant gases (sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone) is less well developed”

From: ”Long-term Exposure to Air Pollution: Effect on Mortality” A report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP)

“Clear associations have been reported between both daily and long-term

average concentrations of air pollutants and effects on the cardiovascular

system, reflected by a variety of outcome measures including risk of death

and of hospital admissions.”

“It is our broad conclusion that many of these associations are likely to be

causal in nature. Because of the implications for public health, a

precautionary approach should be adopted in future planning.”

“It is not possible to be certain which components of the ambient pollution

mixture are responsible for these effects but it is likely that fine particles play

an important part.”

From: “ Cardiovascular Disease and Air Pollution A report by the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP) ]

“The by-products of the incineration process may contain hazardous or toxic pollutants and

emissions will contribute to background pollution levels. “

“There is no doubt that air pollution (from all sources) can have an adverse effect on the

health of susceptible people (i.e. young children, the elderly and particularly those with pre-

existing respiratory disease). The adverse effects of airborne particles on health have been

established through epidemiological studies and include increases in hospital admissions for

both respiratory and cardiovascular disease, increased mortality and, when exposure is over

long periods, reductions in life expectancy. There are also less severe but nonetheless

important effects, such as increased symptoms in asthma sufferers.“

“…. dioxins and furans are highly persistent pollutants and we strongly support the

Government policy to reduce dioxin exposures further by all practicable means …”

“The Agency has considered studies examining adverse health effects around incinerators and is not aware of any consistent or convincing evidence of a link with adverse health outcomes. However it is accepted that the lack of evidence of adverse effects might be due to the limitations regarding the available data. “

“Atmospheric emissions (of dioxins) are also important through deposition to growing crops and pasture grass from which they can be incorporated into foodstuffs, either directly into edible crops or, indirectly into animals that graze on the pastures. It is therefore possible that people who consume produce from local food-chains within the area affected by emissions from the incinerator could receive a relatively higher exposure.”

From: “Municipal Solid Waste Incineration A Position Statement by the Health Protection Agency” 2005 NB This document is very out of date and mentions none of the findings on PM2.5 mentioned by COMEAP

What does this mean for our local health?

Incinerators, even modern incinerators cannot be claimed to be safe.

An incinerator in Sutton Courtenay will pose a risk to health, especially heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

Dioxins released to the air will increase dioxins on local farmland and gardens with potential to enter the food chain.

Dioxin emissions will only be monitored twice a year, with notivce given to the operators. This is not sufficient to protect the local area.

Dumping the toxic hazardous ash and air pollution control residue from the incinerator in the gravel on the Sutton Courtenay site is setting up a situation where dioxin and heavy metal contamination of the water supply in the future is inevitable.

The Government’s 2005 position statement claims that the risk of municipal waste incineration is acceptable.

This does not take into account the constantly developing evidence base since it was written in 2005.

It also assumes that incinerators will be sited and run efficiently and correctly. This assumption is not borne out by experience.

We have seen no independent assessment of the health risk of the proposed Sutton Courtenay incinerator, particularly given the pre-existing poor air quality in the area due to the power stations and the concerns regarding the potential for dioxins to enter the local food chain.

SCAI feel that the risk to health from an incinerator at Sutton Courtenay is likely to be unacceptable.

Do you agree?

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