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Incinerators: Pollution

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) whether incinerators are assessed for their effects on public health; what a safe level of dioxins is considered to be; and whether his Department has records of incinerators that exceeded this level in the latest period for which figures are available; (197834)

(2) what regulations govern emissions from the incineration of waste in (a) hospital, (b) crematoria and (c) waste incinerators.

Waste incineration plants, including those in hospitals, are subject to the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations (the “PPC Regulations”) which were superseded from 6 April 2008 by the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2007. These regulations require each incinerator to have a permit to operate which is issued by the regulator only after detailed consideration of the environmental and health impacts of the operation. Each permit contains operating conditions which incorporate the requirements of the waste incineration directive (the WID), among which is a maximum emission limit to air for dioxins of 0.1 ng/m3 expressed as International Toxic Equivalents (ITEQ). This limit is considered to provide adequate protection to the human health and environment.

Waste incinerators are responsible for a small proportion only of emissions of a range of pollutants. An independent, peer reviewed, study published in 2004, 'Review of the Environmental and Health Effects of Waste Management', concluded that based on the evidence from studies so far:

“risks to human health from incineration are small in comparison with other known risks”.

Of the 65 incinerators regulated by the Environment Agency, five were reported to have breached the 0.1 ng/m3 emission limit during 2007. In four of these cases a formal warning was issued by the Environment Agency. In the last case the Environment Agency is considering what enforcement action is required.

Crematoria are not waste incineration plants and so are not regulated in that way, although they are subject to controls upon emissions to air under other parts of the EPR regulations.