1 Oct 2010

Incineration: good and bad news

A recent article in The Citizen shows that Gloucestershire County Council have set aside £10,000 for the advice of Professor Roy Harrison. He is a professor of environmental health at the University of Birmingham and an international expert on air pollution. He is being paid "to scrutinise proposals for a new waste disposal plant"; which 'currently stand at either an incinerator or a mechanical biological treatment factory'.

Photo: Russ pic reflecting how we seem to view our planet.

Harrison is quoted as saying that anyone living near a waste incinerator in Gloucestershire would have less than a one in a million chance of developing cancer as a result. So what is this? Our County Council softening us up to incineration - preparing the way??

It is also interesting that GCC is now stating it's incineration or MBT but has, I am informed, not told councillors. Heck it is enough to disillusion anyone with local politics?

But before I get to the good news on incineration (although not locally) and the Green Party's response to that Citizen article I do want to note more about my concerns about what GCC are up to? Why on earth spend that money on advice that is in the public domain???

I agree with those that their are potential health concerns that we do not fully understand relating to incinerators. The trouble is with the legislation - under current legislation these incinerators are fine - so talk of nano-particles and more are not our strongest arguments - a point I have made many times on this blog. The arguments against incineration are overwhelming on many other grounds.

However don't get me wrong I am concerned about health - indeed the more I read about what we don't know the more that concern has grown. A Green party colleague recently challenged a leading Conservative councillor on the health issue, using Prof Vyvyan Howards work. He recognised the Prof's pedigree but dismissed him on this issue due to his data being based on older incinerators. But there is always a lack of research with anything new. Howard does refer to a 2007 study on a Scandinavian incineration. His view is that the improved filtration may have a negative impact by producing more ultrafine particles (UFP's) [That's a very simplified version]. Previous research suggests that the finer the particles, the greater penetration through the human filtration process. There are brain scans extant that show heavy metal UFP's that have reached the brain.

The Tory councillors view is that Howard confuses hazard with risk, i.e. the hazard may exist but the risk is tiny. Their response to the suggestion that the precautionary principle should apply is that there will be a tall chimney!

In short it would appear the County Council are seeking the expertise of someone who is going to say whatever they pay him to say.

Indeed isn't that what we pay consultants for? I would be very interested to learn what other consultants GCC have asked before they got this one? How did they choose Harrison?

So here's the good news - we need some cheering up!!

Plans for a bigger incinerator in Coventry are dead after 5 years of campaigning. There is already a 260,000 tpa incinerator in Coventry. In 2005 the surrounding Warwickshire County Council started to make plans for an additional 250,000 tpa incinerator. After much campaigning those plans were dropped but then the councils planned to replace the existing Coventry burner with a 350,000-400,000 tpa burner.

Three councils, (Coventry, Warwickshire and Solihull) had successfully bid to government for the massive private finance initiative (PFI) scheme – on the basis the incinerator was on its last legs and a new one would be needed by 2016. The PFI was based on a 305,000 tpa burner as the residual waste fell. The PFI would cost around a billion pounds over 25 years for a plant with a £250 million capital cost.

The basis of the bid didn't stack up - the councils would have far less than 260,000 of residual waste and the existing plant though dreadful was not about to stop working.

The local Green Party there and FoE have finally got the council to workout the PFI incinerator plan was madness. The Labour and Tory councillors are now arguing who wanted to drop it first. In the medium term they now need to get proper zero waste policy into the councils and close down each of the three lines of the existing burner.

Well done indeed to Greens and FoE. You see it is possible.

Oh and before I go on yesterday at Cabinet, Stroud District Council voted to continue working with other Glos authorities but not as part of a formal partnership - this does make sense - despite business case having compelling reasons to be part of the partnership in fact Stroud would loose out as the arrangements currently stand. Of course there is still the outstanding question about what happens if Stroud cedes from the Joint Municipal Waste Management Strategy....but that is another blog completely....

County events

Don't forget the County Waste Day in Cheltenham - looks good. Another date for the diary is the Paul Connett talk - see poster - on Monday 1st November at the University of Gloucestershire at 7pm. See Paul's previous talk here and link here to the slides.

Below Green party response to The citizen article:

Dear Sir,

I note your article last week concerning the employment of an "expert" at considerable cost by our supposedly cash-strapped County Council to advise them on the performance of their choice of technology for disposing of our residual waste. Can I say that environmental issues are but one side of the argument.

There is also firm ground to argue against a large single incinerator on economic grounds. There is a very relevent article entitled "A flexible future" in the current issue of the well respected journal of the waste industry, Materials Recycling Week (MRW). This article points out that modelling by DEFRA is already showing an overcapacity of 715,000 tons per annum in residual waste processing by 2020, based on a degree of continuing waste growth and a 50% recycling rate. But the reality is that waste volumes are now falling, and some councils are already achieving a 70% recycling rate, so the overcapacity will be even higher.

Incinerator operators in Holland have a 500,000 ton shortfall in waste this year - they are actually importing waste to make up the shortfall in capacity! This backs up the "feeding the dragon" argument that incinerators create a demand for residual waste that holds back progress in recycling and progress towards zero waste. The article concludes that "flexibility should be the watchword, with a preference shown for technologies that can scale down capacity as recycling rates increase [and] waste volumes decrease".

If GCC chooses a single mass burn incinerator based on yesterday's figures where they (i.e. we!) are contracted to supply its waste capacity for 25 years, we may well end up with a very large and very expensive white elephant.

Chris Harmer, Stroud District Green Party

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