The consortium behind the controversial plan to construct a massive Energy from Waste plant near Mallusk has denied suggestions that the project could pose a serious risk to public health.
Becon, which is working with waste management group arc21 on the £240m Hightown Quarry plan, has hit back at comments made during Wednesday night’s (April 16) public meeting held by the No-Arc21 anti-incinerator protest group.
Becon, who claim they weren’t invited to send a representative to the meeting at the Academy Sports Club, say remarks made by University of Ulster toxicopathologist Professor Vyvyan Howard about possible health implications are “contrary to the position of authoritative independent bodies including the UK Health Protection Agency.”
Prof Howard told the packed meeting that waste incinerator stacks emit “trillions of nanoparticles”. And he said that the tiny particles, which he claimed cannot be stopped by the filters used in such plants, “are the ones which we know damage your health.”
He went on to claim that studies carried out in the USA and Europe show that exposure to such particulate matter can cause increased health problems such as strokes and heart attacks.
Prof Howard, who has fought against plans for incinerators for three decades, stressed that it is more efficient to reuse and recycle waste. And he branded the arc21/Becon plan “not sensible” and “unnecessary.”
Hitting out at those behind the Hightown proposal, he told the meeting: “I think it is appalling that the people who want to impose this plant on this community won’t come here tonight and answer questions.”
Colin Buick, chairman of the No-Arc21 group, added: “This incinerator will burn up to 300,000 tonnes of black bin waste per year and will require over 600 vehicles entering and leaving every day - making it the biggest facility of its kind anywhere in Ireland.
“No matter how it is spun by arc21, this incinerator cannot be allowed to exist in the midst of our local communities.”
Responding to the claims about the potential impact on people’s health, Ian Smith, Project Director with Becon said: “The health concerns espoused by Professor Howard and now adopted by the No-Arc21 group, are entirely at odds with the current peer reviewed scientific evidence base on the potential health effects of waste management infrastructure. It also runs contrary to the position of authoritative independent bodies including the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA), which states that modern, well run Energy from Waste (EfW) facilities present a negligible impact on local air quality and no measurable risk to health. For illustration purposes, studies have shown that a modern EfW facility will take 100 years of constant operation to produce more dioxins than that emitted during 15 minutes worth of fireworks in London to celebrate the millennium.”
He continued: “As part of the planning application, a voluntary Health Impact Assessment has also been commissioned to test the Health Protection Agency position, and confirms that the proposed development would remain significantly within all air quality standards set to protect health, and not of an order to quantify any measurable adverse health outcome during construction and operation of the proposed project (including transport emissions).
“From our understanding of Professor Howard’s comments, we note that they are of a general nature about potential hazards associated with particulates, do not relate specifically to the arc21 planning application and therefore do not reflect an accurate picture of actual risk associated with this project. Given the undue community concerns that have been raised by these unsubstantiated claims, we would encourage anyone concerned about health matters to read the Health Impact Assessment which is now available on our website as part of the planning application, or to visit the UK HPA website to obtain the formal position on the subject by qualified, independent, authoritative experts.”
Mr Smith concluded: “We would like to emphasise that Energy from Waste is a tried and tested technology that ensures the safe and environmentally responsible treatment of waste as an alternative to landfill. EfW plants have operated throughout continental Europe for decades, with over 450 plants in operation today. Many of these are located in countries with long established ‘green’ credentials such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany.
“Local residents should be assured that the proposed EfW plant will incorporate the latest emissions technologies used successfully across continental Europe. All emissions from the facility will be tightly controlled and monitored 24 hours a day by independent regulators, and will go through a state of the art cleaning process to ensure there is no unacceptable impact on the environment or air quality.”