Address on Motion 15 OCC

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the Council regarding the health and environmental risk posed by incineration of waste.

When I first became aware of the plan to build a massive industrial incineration plant, just a couple of hundred yards from the level crossing at Appleford, I was astounded. The people of Didcot, Sutton Courtenay and Appleford have had to contend with all the depredation and degradation associated with the power station and the landfill for 40 years but the end was in sight. The decommissioning of Didcot A and the reconstitution of the landfill to farmland were both reasonably imminently. But now, it is proposed to inflict not only another 25 years of landfill but also a huge incinerator on the very same population. This seemed to me to be gross injustice.

Looking at the plans, the plant is on a massive scale and being well separated from the power station, encroaches unacceptably on the rurality of the area. On the other hand, we have been reassured that modern incinerators are clean and safe, even attractive, by the representatives of Waste Recycling Group (not a surprise) and also by our Councillor, by the Leader of the Council on his website and by the professional officers of the council, both in correspondence and in the press. However, my neighbours are genuinely worried and concerned, and so I decided, with a group of health colleagues, to look into the environmental health risks posed by burning a mixed waste stream in incinerators, and what we found has shocked and frightened us all.

We have outlined the evidence and the arguments in the objection document which you have all been sent. I hope you have all had the opportunity to read it and I will not go over the contents again. Suffice to say that modern incinerators are clearly not safe. They look shiny and clinical and clean and, as Cllr Mitchell points out on his website, they do not belch black smoke….this is probably the most sinister thing about them; there is no obvious danger.  Yet, by burning plastics and other manmade materials, incinerators actually produce dioxins and heavy metal compounds, attached to minute particles that enter the body via the lungs or food. People who are trying to act responsibly, by ‘growing their own’ or eating local produce or breastfeeding are most at risk. This is so unfair.

And remember that when the previous generation of incinerators were introduced, they were billed as modern, clean and safe…..and yet, after the many years that it takes to incontrovertibly prove that such long term health risks are unacceptable, they had to be closed or completely overhauled. By then, however, unacceptable harm had been caused to their surrounding populations. Can we afford to make the same mistake again?

What about the regulators? The Health Protection Agency stated in 2005 that the risk of MSW incineration is acceptable if, and only if, the facility is sited appropriately and run properly. We feel that Sutton Courtenay is not an appropriate site due to the risk posed by the landfill of hazardous fly ash and due to the fact that it will impose an unacceptable cumulative burden on a population that has already suffered long term exposure to the worst air quality in the county. Furthermore, existing modern incinerators regularly breach their emission permits, despite the fact that the monitoring regime is pitifully weak. And the HPA position statement does not say anything about the safety of burning commercial and industrial waste proposed in order to produce enough rubbish to feed this monster. The experience is that introducing this sort of waste causes additional problems. And the EA cannot consider the risks of this incinerator until the permit is applied for. WRG have delayed application for the operating permit, against best practice. Why, we ask ourselves?

The concerned residents of Appleford and Sutton Courtenay are very grateful that Cllr Fooks has put down a motion asking for an independent review of the risks. We have been repeatedly characterised as (and I quote) a mob … egged on by a nimby fear of the unknown and…fuelled by single-issue groups committed to opposition by any means. This is the first time that we have felt that our concerns are being heard by County Hall.

Councillors need to understand that the regulatory processes always lag behind the research evidence – the latest HPA statement is based on literature that is now 5 years old. In the light of the evidence we have been able to put before you, we feel that Council must not devolve their duty of care solely to the HPA and EA. The Council should apply the precautionary principle and had it done so, we, as citizens, would not have been put in the position of having to fight this rear guard action against a proposal for the procurement of an outdated technology. Had incineration been properly investigated before procurement, we feel sure that it would have been ruled out as affording too great a risk both to health, to the environment and to the financial security of Oxfordshire.

We are aware that the Council  currently faces a perfect storm of environmental, fiscal and economic pressures. However, it is not too late to impartially evaluate the potential health risks , so that planning committee members can be confident that they are making their decisions on the basis of independent evidence. Then local citizens can feel that they have a reasonable idea of the burden, that they are being asked to bear, in terms of health, wellbeing, shortened life span and health and social care costs, all in the interests of avoiding EU landfill tax.
Thank you.   Dr Angela Jones

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