Incinerator study finds ‘low levels’ of air pollutants

The first part of a major government-funded study into the health effects of emissions from energy-from-waste plants has been published, suggesting that incinerators emit a ‘low level’ of air pollutants.

Details of the study were published in the Environmental Science & Technology Journal earlier this summer.

The South East London Combined Heat and Power plant is one of 22 energy from waste plants to have been studied as part of the research

The work was funded by Public Health England (PHE) and was carried out by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) at Imperial College and the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, looking at data gathered between 2003 and 2010.

Further findings on the health impact of exposure to pollutants from energy from waste plants are expected within the coming months, which it is hoped will address any public concern over the increase in the number of energy from waste plants built in the UK.

Concentration

The research has looked at the concentration of emissions – in particular particulate matter (PM10) – arising from 22 municipal waste incinerators (MWIs) in Great Britain.

The study used dispersion modelling to estimate the spatial variability of PM10 concentrations at postcodes within 10km of the 22 incinerators in locations including Portsmouth, North and South East London, Sheffield, Dundee and Stockton-on-Tees.

‘Very low’ concentrations of incinerator-related PM10 were recorded within 10km of all of the 22 sites studied, the research suggested.

It stated: “While there is public concern regarding potential adverse health effects from MWI emissions, findings from epidemiological studies are inconsistent and inconclusive. Most studies have focused on adult cancers and to a lesser extent reproductive and child health outcomes. Exposure assessment has often used simple proxies, adopting proximity to incinerator as the exposure measure.”

Plausibility

Emissions from 22 municipal waste incinerators were studied

According to the report, work to assess the plausibility of the low modelled PM10 concentrations showed that: “…while there was some evidence of NOx and PM10 emissions from MWIs being detected at ground level, these were few and often could not be distinguished from other sources such as traffic. This supports the very low contributions of MWI PM10 to background concentrations in areas near MWIs in the present study.”

A study into the effects of emissions from energy-from-waste (EfW) plants on human health was first announced in 2012 funded by a grant from Public Health England and the Scottish Government – with findings initially expected in March 2014.

However, Publication of the findings of the research were subsequently hit by a number of delays, in part caused by “unanticipated complexity in gathering data”.

A spokesman for PHE confirmed that further research on the health impacts of exposure to emissions from energy from waste plants is expected to be submitted for peer review later this year, and could be published before the end of the year.