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Government study finds incinerators are safe

By Rebecca Thyer

The UKs current generation of waste incinerators have little effect on human health, a Government review has found. But environmental campaigners are warning that the report must not be seen as a green light for incineration.

The comprehensive review of the environmental and health effects of municipal waste management found that incineration accounted for less than 1% of UK emissions and dioxins, while domestic sources such as cooking and burning coal for heating accounted for 18% of emissions.

It added that there was no evidence to suggest that incinerators were likely to have an effect on human health. Cancer, respiratory diseases and birth defects were all considered and no evidence was found for a link between the incidence of the disease and the current generation of incinerators, it reported.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley believed the report should push local authorities to urgently approve planning applications for new waste management facilities.

We must manage the growing amount of waste we produce. We will do this by basing our policies on the best available scientific evidence and on an assessment of the comparative risks. We will continue to develop our scientific knowledge to support our policies. This report is a helpful contribution to that process.

However Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Anna Watson said the report must not be used as a green light for increased incineration.

This report does little to increase confidence in the Governments waste strategy. It fails to adequately consider the environmental benefits of recycling, or the wider global environmental impacts of the way we manage our waste.

It believed the report failed to consider climate change, avoiding the use of natural resources and global environmental impacts.

The National Clean Air Society was also disappointed with the reports scope.

While spokesman Tim Brown said the group welcomed the report and hoped it would put an end to scaremongering over the health impacts of waste management facilities, it was disappointed that it gave little information on the overall environmental impacts of different waste management routes.

The focus is very much on air emissions from waste facilities. It doesnt help determine the best environmental option for waste streams overall. Although the report may be reassuring to people living near waste management facilities, it doesnt help local authorities assess the wider lifecycle benefits of recycling, composting, and other treatment technologies, Brown said.

As data or evidence of possible adverse environmental impacts including emissions to land and water was limited, the report does little to address the current planning stalemate where even small recycling facilities are unable to get planning permission.

Landfill was also found to have no effect on cancer rates. Detailed studies have found that living close to a landfill site does not increase the chance of getting cancer to a level that can be measured, the report said. The most important impact from landfill sites was emissions of greenhouse gases. Methane from landfill accounts for 27% of the national total.

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