Antwerp waste plant blast sparks fears over safety of Hightown project

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Opponents of arc21’s plan to build a £240m incinerator near Mallusk say an explosion at a waste plant in Belgium is a major cause for concern.

According to the NoArc21 anti-incinerator campaign group, the recent incident at the Indaver plant in Antwerp raises serious questions about the safety of arc21’s energy from waste plant proposal for Hightown Quarry. However, those behind the project have given an assurance that safety is their “primary concern”.

Voicing concerns about the proposed Hightown development, NoArc21 spokesman Colin Buick said: “It seems that Indaver, the company that operates the plant where a tanker erupted into a huge fireball, could well be the firm behind arc21’s monstrous incinerator at Hightown. Is this what we want for Mallusk and the Antrim and Newtownabbey area?”

The NoArc21 group has also raised concerns about emissions breaches at Indaver’s plant in Co Meath.

Indaver is one of the companies that make up the Becon Consortium - the group of private firms backing the arc21 project. It has confirmed that the explosion and fire at its Antwerp facility on February 26 occurred in a tanker containing waste solvents. The company has stressed that there were “no injuries” and “limited environmental impact.”

Responding to concerns about public safety, a spokesman for arc21 said: “The safety record of municipal energy from waste plants in the UK is excellent and such plants are extremely well regulated. Safety is arc21’s primary concern for all the contracts it operates.

“It’s too early to speculate what caused the incident at the industrial waste facility in Antwerp. We understand though that the plant involved uses different technology specifically designed to manage hazardous industrial waste streams, in contrast to the municipal waste which will be handled at the Hightown site.”

A spokesperson for Becon added: “The Becon Consortium is aware of the recent incident at Indaver’s dedicated Industrial Waste facility in Antwerp, which is a very different type of facility than that proposed to meet arc21’s municipal waste needs. The incident involved a third party industrial waste producer’s road tanker. Due to the immediate deployment of Indaver’s crisis management plan, the evacuation of the site was underway before the fire began and all employees were evacuated quickly and safely. The fire was completely extinguished by 7pm that evening and after a thorough analysis, the Belgium regulatory authorities gave their approval for some on-site activities to resume. From Monday, February 29, the site was accepting industrial waste again and an investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing.”

He added: “The technology proposed for the Becon project is designed to deal with municipal black bin waste and is proven, reliable, and strictly regulated. Health and safety is our top priority and to be allowed to operate, the waste facilities will require an Environmental Permit which is only issued if the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is satisfied that people and the environment are protected.

“Once operational, the proposed plants will be regulated by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and will comply with the strict emission limits and health and safety regulations set under various permits including the Environmental Permit and the Industrial Emissions Directive. The operations will be constantly monitored independently to ensure that the plant always operates safely and within the limits set out in the relevant permits.”