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February, 2014:

‘Cover up’ claim as incinerator study postponed

Research into effects of waste incineration on human health will be postponed after data had to be ‘manually’ entered

A study aiming to establish whether there is a link between modern municipal waste incinerator emissions and health defects has been postponed until 2015, in what the Breathe Clean Air Group has labelled a government ‘cover-up’.

The research, which was due to be published in March 2014, was approved by the Health Protection Agency in January last year to extend the evidence base and provide further information to the public.

The study involves examining areas of up to 15km around 22 incinerators across England, including Grundon’s Lakeside energy-from-waste facility, the SELCHP plant in Lewisham, the London Waste Edmonton incinerator and SITA UK’s Tees Valley plant in Billingham.

Scientists hope to determine if there is a potential link between incinerator emissions and health outcomes, such as low birth weight, still births and infant deaths.

In addition, a Dundee-based incinerator has also been included in the study, with working relating to the plant funded by a grant from the Scottish Government.

But Public Health England, which is funding King’s College London and Imperial College London to carry out the study, today revealed the preliminary results would not be available until 2015 due to the ‘unanticipated complexity in gathering data’ – caused by having to enter emissions data into an electronic format manually before statistical analysis could begin.

Commenting on the postponement, Pete Kilvert, chairman of the anti-incinerator Breathe Clean Air Group – said he feared the government would instruct the research teams to take ‘an average’ sample around each incinerator rather than look at the consequences on people living ‘downwind’ of each facility.

He said: “The Government is hell bent on burning the country’s waste and telling us that it won’t do us any harm. When waste such as plastics, metals and organic material are burnt at low temperatures, then new chemicals such as dioxins and heavy metals will settle out into our community.”

Public Health England today said it continues to stand by its position that well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health.

Commenting on the delay, Dr Simon Bouffler, deputy director of Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, said: “It was originally envisaged that preliminary results for this study would be available by March 2014 but because of the unanticipated complexity in gathering data this has been delayed.

“A paper with preliminary results is now expected to be prepared for submission to a peer-reviewed journal around the end of 2014, with publication in 2015.”

He added: “Some of the data on emissions from MWIs were unexpectedly held in paper format rather than in electronic files, and had to be entered manually onto computer before the statistical analysis could begin. There was a delay while this process took place.”