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resource: Incinerator correspondence to be made public

by Alex Blake, for resource:

Environment Agency (EA) concerns over the Moorwell incinerator on the Isles of Scilly will become available to the public thanks to a Freedom of Information request.

The request, submitted by Radio Scilly, will see around 400 pages of emails and letters being released. The material details correspondence between the EA and the Chief Technical Officer of the Council of the Isles of Scilly between June 2010 and earlier this year.

Councillor Steve Sims, Chairman of the General Purpose Committee on the isles, stated that the documents would be available to view in the Council’s One-Stop Shop, but that making copies would not be permitted.

It has since been reported that during the sampling periods, levels of dioxins (which the World Health Organization describes as ‘highly toxic’) at the site reached 65 times the permitted levels.

However, the Council took steps to reassure the public that there was ‘no clear risk to human health’ posed by the dioxins.

Andy Street from consultants SLR also commented: “Regarding public health, it is true that the emissions were high on occasion from this incinerator, which was first commissioned in the 1970’s. Initial assessment of the impact of emissions to air was undertaken in 2009 under the instruction of the Environment Agency, which in turn consulted with the Food Standards Agency.

“These investigations indicated that, even with monitored emissions at their highest, there was no clear risk to human health, because of the small scale of the plant and low volume of waste incinerated.”

EA officials brought in consultants SLR to consult with the council and the agency on the site, and according to the group, found that the incinerator was being overloaded and was burning too much unsorted, off-island plastic waste. However, dioxin levels have now reportedly returned to within ‘safe’ limits.

Incineration problems not the first

This is not the first time incineration plants have been in the news over environmental and health concerns. Less than one month ago, Scotgen (Dumfries) Ltd saw its permit revoked for its Dargavel incinerator after the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) declared it had failed ‘to comply with the requirements of [its] permit’.

The revocation notice, served on 23 August, cited the following permit breaches:

  • persistent non-compliance with the requirements of the permit;
  • failure to comply with an enforcement notice;
  • failure to maintain financial provision and resources to comply with the requirements of the permit;
  • failure to recover energy with a high level of efficiency.

According to Ian Conroy, Technical Support Manager in the South West for SEPA: “Since the plant come [sic] into operation we have provided support and assistance to Scotgen (Dumfries) Limited including affording them considerable time and opportunity to demonstrate that this facility can meet the Best Available Techniques, and the specific requirements of European Directives designed to protect the environment. Unfortunately despite this, they have not done so.”

The Dargavel site has suffered a litany of problems. In 18 July 2013 a fire broke out at the site, requiring 30 firefighters to bring it under control. Scotgen is also under investigation by the Health and Safety Executive following a “pipe burst” in August, which damaged nearby pipework and a roof.

Incineration could become ‘obsolete’

In relation to these latest incidents, Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of United Kingdom Without Incineration (UKWIN), stated his belief that incinerators would become ‘obsolete’: “I understand that many of the problems at the facility arose from changes in feedstock composition and difficulties in obtaining combustible material.

“These are issues that I expect will become more prevalent across the UK in the coming years as increases in recycling, waste minimisation, and separate collection of food waste render residual waste treatment unnecessary and show incineration to be obsolete.”

Read more about incineration and the full statement regarding the Moorwell site from the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

11 Sep 2013

IPS: Dioxin Levels Soar on Icelandic Farms (2011)

by Lowana Veal, for the Inter Press Service:

In the northwestern Icelandic town of Isafjordur, milk is causing pandemonium. A local milk marketing board recently tested one farm’s milk for the presence of harmful chemicals. Dioxin, and dioxin-like compounds, were found to be present in amounts higher than the recommended maximum levels, threatening the future of local farmers, and angering residents.

Dioxins are highly toxic compounds produced as a byproduct in some manufacturing processes, notably herbicide production and paper bleaching. They are a serious and persistent environmental pollutant.

The milk that was tested came from a farm called Efri-Engidalur, located in a valley only 1.5 kilometres from a waste-burning incinerator that was closed by the authorities last year due to consistently high levels of pollutants.

“Usually, measurements are done by the authorities, but we decided to test for dioxin because we were concerned about the incinerator,” said Einar Sigurdsson, of MS Iceland Dairies.

As a result of the findings, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (IFVA) decided to test samples of milk, meat, and hay from several farms in the surrounding area.

The findings revealed increased levels of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds in the majority of the samples. Dioxin-like compounds are polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as dioxin-like PCBs, which behave like dioxin, so are generally classified with it in terms of toxicity.


Time Out Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s new Air Quality Health Index

written by Anna Cummings, posted on Time Out Hong Kong:

Hong Kong’s air quality is, put simply, bad. That’s not really news for those of us who have little choice but to breathe in our city’s sometimes pungently noxious atmosphere. The Hedley Environmental Index shows that only 50 days throughout last year were registered as ‘clear’ – that’s the lowest number in the past four years. More shockingly, around nine preventable deaths and more than 400 hospitalisations occur each day in the city as a devastatingly direct result of this pollution.

It’s a perfect time, then, for the introduction of the government’s brand new Air Quality Objectives and Air Quality Health Index, which replaces the Air Pollution Index. They came into force on January 1 as part of the the ongoing Clean Air Plan, which was introduced back in March last year. The new AQHI monitors concentrations of four major pollutants on a three-hour moving average and alerts residents to the potential health risks posed by the air on a scale ranging from one (low health risk) to 10+ (serious health risk). Our new, stricter, Air Quality Objectives replace ones that hadn’t been updated since 1987.

This is certainly a positive step for the current administration, which is promising to make our air a top priority in coming years. Earlier in 2013, it was announced that $10 billion will be set aside for the retirement of old diesel-powered vehicles, although this will take some years to come into full effect. A Hong Kong NGO, Clean Air Network, has tentatively welcomed the government’s new-found enthusiasm as ‘encouraging’, claiming that concern for the air was ‘rarely seen during the previous administration’.

However, the government continues to be lambasted for what many feel has been a continuously lacklustre response to our choking problem. Andrew Lai, deputy director of the Environmental Protection Department, has insisted that the AQHI will ‘provide more timely and useful air pollution information to the public’, with its accompanying mobile app providing residents with real-time pollution information. But others claim they would prefer to see more direct action. “It’s pointless having an index saying that you’re going to die,” asserts James Middleton, chairman of city charity Clear the Air. “What they should be doing is stopping the reasons that you’re going to die.”

The new AQHI app. (Time Out HK)

Melonie Chau, senior environmental affairs officer at Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, agrees. “The change to the API system wasn’t the most urgent issue the public needed for the time being, because it’s no more than a tool to raise public awareness,” she says. “It’s not a measure to curb the problem.”Perhaps unsurprisingly, within only a few days of its launch, the AQHI reached levels of 10 or 10+ in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok, prompting the government to advise children and the elderly to remain indoors.

Many residents would be surprised to discover that marine vessels are the largest contributor to our air woes, rather than idling engines or power plants. To highlight this fact, take a glance at AQHI readings from the remote, vehicle-less island of Tap Mun, located near Mirs Bay in Shenzhen. The pollution there is frequently as high as roadside stations in Central or Causeway Bay. “Our winds are mainly from the east or northeast, for most of the year,” points out Middleton. “Tap Mun is shrouded in nitrogen oxides and sulphur all year… it’s covered in gunk. And that comes from the ships. The wind blows it there.”

Almost inconceivably, the sulphur emissions given off by just 16 ‘supercarrier’ cargo ships are equivalent to that of all the cars in the entire world. The sulphur content of the super-viscous, low-grade bunker fuel used by cargo ships is up to 2,000 times higher than that used in motor vehicles. With such boats trundling around our small territory, it’s hardly suspiring that there is a problem. Even worse, these ships are already carrying low-sulphur fuel – but they don’t use it here. Such fuel is required by law inside Emission Control Areas that are set within 200 nautical miles offshore of many countries in Europe and the Americas. But in Hong Kong, there is no such scheme.

“We have all these vessels going into Shenzhen – and all these vessels are polluting Hong Kong,” says Middleton. “But they’re doing nothing about it! The government just says the waters are under Chinese control. Well, go and speak to China about it then! [If there was an ECA], there’d be an immediate improvement in people’s health and in the whole situation in Hong Kong. But who owns the container ports in Shenzhen, in Hong Kong, in Yantian? Li Ka-shing! I wonder why they haven’t done anything?” The Clean Air Plan does acknowledge this issue, and has promised to ‘begin discussions… on the feasibility of mandating fuel switch for ocean going vessels berthed in Hong Kong’.


Xinhua: China’s most-polluted province faces enormous challenge

edited by Shen Qing, for Xinhua news:

Hebei, a northern region with the worst air in China, faces an enormous challenge in cleaning up its dirty air as data showed that little more than one third of all days last year met quality standards.

The air quality index (AQI) in 129 days, 35.3 percent of days in 2013, was below 100, Chen Guoying, director of the Hebei provincial bureau of environmental protection, told a local legislature on Wednesday.

The province, which surrounds the national capital Beijing, had 80 days, or 21.9 percent, of severe air pollution (AQI readings higher than 200), Chen said.

According to statistics published monthly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Hebei is home to up to seven of the country’s top 10 polluted cities.

“Heavy smog hit at the time of the “two sessions” in 2013 and again this year,” said Liu Ronghua, a local political advisor, at a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the provincial people’s political consultative conference.

The “two sessions” refer to the annual meetings of the local legislature and political consultative conference.

“Smog has triggered a survival crisis and people are wondering where is suitable to live. Some are fleeing big cities to avoid the toxic air,” Liu said.

Hebei’s economy is dominated by highly polluting and energy guzzling heavy industries, which contributed to up to 77 percent of all emissions into the air, according to Chen.

The three sectors of steel, petrochemicals and construction materials account for half of its industrial output. Hebei churned out 180.5 million tonnes of steel last year, the largest among all provincial-level regions, Chen said.

To tackle the severe air pollution, the provincial government has banned approvals of new steel, cement, glass and nonferrous metal plants.

Meanwhile, it has pledged to cut its annual steel and cement production capacities by 60 million tonnes respectively by 2017 and to reduce its annual coal consumption by 40 million tonnes from 2012 levels under the same time frame.

To meet the targets, authorities will encourage mergers and acquisitions and order closures or use pricing reforms to prompt outdated facilities to shut down.

Hebei has entered a period of painful economic transition and the government will focus more on environmental protection and greener growth rather than on pure gross domestic product expansion, said Zhang Qingwei, governor of Hebei.

The central government is becoming more serious in tackling pollution as the choking air has become the target of growing discontent among urban residents.

In September, the State Council, or the Cabinet, signed air pollution control initiatives with six provinces and municipalities in north China, including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shandong, in a coordinated effort to tackle severe air pollution.

8 Jan 2014

High PM2.5 on Sunday: Ocean-going vessels major culprit of HK air pollution

Hong Kong officials continue to legislate for switching out old diesel engines on road vehicles, singing their own praises and splashing public funds in the process. Yet Hong Kong’s air quality remains extremely poor – a simple look outside the window suffice to dissatisfy.

Air quality on a Sunday afternoon. PM2.5 readings are very high, at 150-170.

The number of vehicles on the roads on Sunday is the least in the week, in addition to the consideration of all the work that the officials proclaim to have done in reducing vehicles emissions. The PM2.5 particles, on the other hand, don’t lie. Their continued presence points to shipping emissions as the real major source of pollutants in Hong Kong.

The Northeasterlies at the Northeast brings emissions from Yantian; the Northwesterlies at the Northwest brings emissions from Shekou; Southerlies at the South brings emissions from ships passing through and into Hong Kong.

Hong Kong urgently needs to legislate and enforce an emissions control area for shipping. It remains to be seen if the city’s officials will take real action.

SCMP: Average hours of unhealthy air in Hong Kong up on last year

from Ernest Kao of the SCMP:

Hong Kongers endured an average of 2,727 hours of unhealthy air this year, surpassing last year’s figure with a week to spare.

The Post examined hourly air pollution index (API) data from the Environmental Protection Department’s 11 general air quality monitoring stations and three roadside stations.

From January 1 to December 21, the average number of hours of high, very high or severe air pollution recorded by each general monitoring station rose 7.6 per cent from last year’s 2,534.

The API measures concentrations of major air pollutants such as carbon monoxide and respirable suspended particulates in a range of 0 to 500. Readings above 51 are "high" - acceptable in the short term but beyond long-term health standards. "Very high" is above 100, indicating air that is unhealthy in both the short term and the long term. "Severe" readings are above 200. (SCMP)


FT: Hong Kong’s air quality blighted by fumes from road and sea

by Demetri Sevastopulo, for the Financial Times:

When Beijing residents visit Hong Kong, they sometimes quip that the territory is like a breath of fresh air, especially in winter when the Chinese capital can be bathed in extremely hazardous smog for days on end.

While most Hong Kongers can understand that feeling – having seen countless images of mainland cities wrapped in smog – they are far from happy with their own air quality.

According to the Hedley Environmental Index, compiled by the University of Hong Kong, the territory had 69 clear days – when the levels of five pollutants complied with World Health Organisation guidelines – last year. The pollution cost the economy an estimated HKD40bn ($5bn) in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Hong Kong had all of 69 clear days last year. (AFP)


Bloomberg: Hong Kong’s Pollution Near 6-Month High (Nov 2013)

from David Ingles, reporting for Bloomberg on the high levels of air pollutants in Hong Kong’s air last month.

Jason Lerwill, an air specialist at Renaud Lifestyle Products (retailers for air purifier systems), mentions three major contributors to air pollutants in the city: shipping in the Pearl River Delta, roadside pollution, and factory emissions across the border. Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment, speaks enthusiastically about policies to reduce vehicle emissions, but mentions nothing about shipping and factory emissions.

4 Nov 2013

SCMP: Shenzhen delegates demand closure of Hong Kong landfill sites after choking smog hits city

from Chris Luo of the SCMP:

Delegates from Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress have urged Hong Kong to shut down all of its landfill sites close to the border after smoke arising from a fire at one of the sites choked the city last week.

Dozens of city’s legislation deputies on Monday appeared at the city’s congress demanding the government to initiate a full-scale hazard assessment after polluted air hit the region, said the Southern Metropolis Daily on Tuesday.

The choking smog that filled the air came from a level-two fire on Friday night at a waste-recycling site in Fanling’s Ta Kwu Ling, just 1.5 kilometres from the Hong Kong – Shenzhen border. Fire categories in Hong Kong are classed between one and five, with five being the most serious. The Hong Kong fire department dispatched 23 fire engines and put out the fire within around two hours. No casualties were reported.

However strong odours resembling that of burned rubbish have since been reported in Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan districts in southern Shenzhen, prompting a number of people to complain on social networking websites.

The Shenzhen city government confirmed on its official microblog on Saturday that the choking smog was a result of the landfill fire. Data from the Shenzhen official meteorological bureau’s website showed a surge in levels of small inhalable particles PM2.5 that are hazardous to health shortly after the fire broke out in Hong Kong.

Yang Qin, one of the protesting delegates, told the Southern Metropolis Daily that the incident was “unprecedented in Shenzhen history” and demanded the government to publicly announce the assessment results.

“Shenzhen [government] should have clear acknowledgment and counter-measures regarding these pollution sources,” Yang was quoted as saying.

“The fire incident is an alarm for Shenzhen. [We] urge Hong Kong government to re-evaluate the future impact of landfill locations to Shenzhen and call upon [Hong Kong] to shut all of its landfill sites along the border,” Yang reportedly said on behalf of the protesting delegates.

Hong Kong’s rubbish dumps, many located close to the border with Shenzhen, have increasingly angered residents across the border.

In July, two Shenzhen residents paid a visit to Hong Kong to lodge a complaint about the Tuen Mun landfill extension plan. They said the extension plan of the site, just six kilometres from their home of Nanshan district, was “unacceptable” and would “only lead to a dead end”.

12 Nov 2013

China to reduce coal usage for power generation to battle smog and related health issues; could spell end for viable coal production

On the back of the smog that hit Northeastern China last month, the SCMP ran an editorial on serious health concerns seeping throughout China:

The prevalence of smoking in China tends to fudge the contribution of air pollution to the growing incidence of respiratory disease. A couple of examples that emerged this month are timely reminders of the cost of China’s rapid development. In one, an eight-year-old girl has become the nation’s youngest lung-cancer patient, with doctors linking her illness to environmental factors. Dr Feng Dongjie of the Jiangsu cancer hospital says the girl lived on a busy road where she inhaled dust, including superfine particles considered to be the most lethal component of smog.

The other example recalled the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, except in this instance it was the lack of a picture. The smog that hung over many Chinese cities, including Beijing, last month was so bad in the northeastern city of Harbin , where visibility fell to below three metres, that even public security surveillance cameras could not penetrate thick layers of particles. The immediate concern for the authorities is safeguarding national security though a street surveillance network. They should also be deeply worried about the effects of smog on the public’s health as they are insidious and, if and when the air clears, will linger much longer.

The 'lack of a picture' tells a thousand words: buildings are seen through thick haze in downtown Shanghai. (SCMP/Reuters)