A delayed report into the health impact of municipal waste incinerators is expected to be submitted in the coming months, more than two years after its original planned release date.
The Public Health England (PHE)-funded study investigating the potential link between emissions from incinerators and health outcomes was launched in January 2012, with results initially slated for March 2014.
But the report has yet to emerge. Health minister Jane Ellison said in the House of Commons this month it was expected that papers from the project would be submitted by Imperial College London’s Small Area Health Statistics Unit for peer review “later in 2016”.
Dr Ovnair Sepai, of PHE’s toxicology department, said the delay was due to “unanticipated complexity in gathering data”.
“It is important to stress the PHE’s position – that well-run and regulated modern municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health – remains valid. The study is being carried out to extend the evidence base and to provide further information to the public.”
The PHE’s position statement is consistent with that issued by its precursor body, the Health Protection Agency, in 2009.
It said at the time that its reassurances were based on “detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that modern and well-managed municipal waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants”.
Lobby group UK Without Incineration Network has been a longstanding critic of the study for not ”genuinely addressing the concerns of our members”.
Responding to correspondence regarding the study in 2012, national co-ordinator Shlomo Dowen said: “The study seems more concerned with appearing to have addressed [anti-incineration campaigner] Mike Ryan’s claims rather than approaching this in an open, inquiring and scientific frame of mind.”
The study, to which King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group is also contributing, is examining evidence from 22 energy-from-waste plants across the UK, including Viridor and Grundon’s Lakeside facility (pictured).
It will examine the risk to all congenital anomalies, including separate analysis of subsets such as cleft lip, cleft palate, major heart defects, respiratory defects and anomalies of the neural tube, abdominal wall or urinary tract.
Two papers have been published from the study so far: one on modelling exposures and the other about metal emissions from incinerators in 2015.
The latest one found no evidence of a harmful emission of metals from most incinerators.