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Study could derail incinerator projects, experts warn

13 Jan 2012

A Government-backed study into the potential health risks posed by incinerators could derail a raft of key projects, experts warned ahead of a crucial ministerial decision on a proposed energy-from-waste plant in Norfolk.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) confirmed it was working with scientists to draw up “detailed proposals” for a study into birth outcomes around waste incinerators.

Campaigners against the £500m King’s Lynn power and recycling facility said ministers should wait until such a study was completed before deciding whether to back the proposals.

While this is thought to be unlikely, industry figures said uncertainty about the HPA’s stance could make it harder to get incinerators through planning.

Grant Thornton director Nigel Mattravers said: “It is disappoint-ing. Previous [Government-backed studies] were largely thought to definitively prove there are no serious health problems.

“It may not be helpful for the future if there is a piece of work which campaigners can say ‘we need to wait for this before a decision is taken’.”

Mike Knights from Farmers Campaign, which opposes the Norfolk incinerator, said a number of scientific studies, including one in the well-regarded US National Library of Medicine in July 2010, cited links between health problems and incinerators.

“I think studies like that one in the US are making the HPA feel uncomfortable. The industry seems to think that the Waste Incinerator Directive wiped the slate clean. It doesn’t.”

The HPA, a non-departmental public body, refused to say when a decision would be taken on the study, first floated last May, or how long it would take if it went ahead.

A spokesman said: “The HPA’s position is that well run and regulated modern municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health.

“However, we recognise that there are real public concerns about this issue, and will take every possible step to reassure people that the position is as we have outlined.”

He added that discussions were ongoing with Imperial College London about “a potential study into birth outcomes around municipal waste incinerators and a detailed proposal for what would be a complex study is being drawn up”.

In 2009, the HPA declared that incinerators posed a significantly low threat to public health (

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