Opinion divided over waste incinerator health risks

Craig Goodall, Prof. Vyvyan Howard, Colin Buick and Richard Gregory at the No Arc 21 meeting. INNT 37-500CON
Craig Goodall, Prof. Vyvyan Howard, Colin Buick and Richard Gregory at the No Arc 21 meeting. INNT 37-500CON

Opponents of the plan to build a huge waste disposal plant near Mallusk have claimed the facility could have an adverse impact on the health of people living in the area.

NoArc21, the umbrella opposition group to the Hightown Quarry waste incinerator proposal, issued the stark warning following its latest meeting, which was addressed by leading toxicopathologist, Professor Vyvyan Howard.

However, in response to claims made since the meeting, the Becon Consortium - the organisation behind the £240million plan to construct a mechanical biological treatment facility and Energy from Waste plant - has hit back, saying that the modern Energy from Waste (EfW) plant would present “no measurable risk to people’s health”.

The NoArc 21 meeting, which took place at the Academy Sports Club, was attended by members of the protest group and several local politicians.

Prof. Howard provided a general overview of his research into the harmful health impacts of the incineration of waste.

“The main impact on health in the locality of an incinerator is likely to come from the small particles that are formed as part of the process and there is no safe exposure level to these sized particles. Incinerators cannot avoid producing aerosols of fine particles and this burden on the local ambient atmosphere is likely, in my opinion, to have chronic impact on the health of the local population,” he said.

“There is another aspect to the toxic impact of waste incinerators through the production of dioxins which persist in the environment for decades. They bioconcentrate up the food web and tend to come back to us in our food. They are very potent and predominantly affect the foetus and the infant during development.”

Colin Buick, chairman of NoArc21 commented: “The Hightown Quarry which is earmarked for the Arc21/Becon municipal waste incinerator is situated on the doorstep of numerous large residential areas. The extensive research available suggests that particles and dioxins generated through the incineration of waste can cause a diverse array of toxic effects and that human absorption of these compounds can cause numerous health problems such as cancer, births defects, decreased fertility, asthma, diabetes and skin disorders.

“We cannot let this industrial monster go ahead and jeopardise our health and the health of future generations in the area.”

However, responding to the group’s claims, Ian Smith, project director for Becon stressed that Professor Howard’s comments “do not relate specifically to the arc21 planning application and do not reflect an accurate picture of actual risk associated with this project.”

“His position is also at odds with the evidence base on the health effects of waste management and the UK Health Protection Agency’s position, that modern, well run facilities present a negligible impact on local air quality and no measurable risk to health,” he said.

“As part of the planning process, a voluntary Health Impact Assessment has been commissioned to test the HPA 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.

“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, and will go through a state of the art cleaning process to ensure there is no unacceptable impact on the environment or air quality.”

A planning application for the Hightown Quarry project is expected to be submitted to Planning Service within the next few weeks.