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The UK Government comments on Incinerators (energy from waste plants)

(in Hong Kong 13 million cubic meters of methane are flared off each year from chimney stacks at our landfills)

24. Are there health risks from energy from waste plants?

Energy from waste (EfW) plants are frequently perceived by some of the public to be a particular risk

to human health. However, despite many detailed studies into the health of communities living near to

EfW plants, none have been able to demonstrate a conclusive link between incinerator emissions and

public health impacts. Modern EfW plants must meet tight emissions standards so they make a very

small contribution to the background levels of air pollution.

25. What were the findings of the Defra review into the health effects of waste management?

The most recent independent review of evidence on the health effects of management and disposal of

household and similar waste was published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural

Affairs (Defra) in 2004. The “Review of the Environmental and Health Effects of Waste Management:

Municipal Solid Waste and Similar Wastes” considered 23 high quality studies of the patterns of

disease around energy from waste (EfW) plants and also four review papers looking at the health

effects of EfW plants. 

The report considered cancer, respiratory disease and birth defects and found no evidence for a link

between the incidence of the disease and the current generation of EfW plants.

27. How can you be sure modern energy from waste (EfW) plants are much safer?

There have been substantial cuts in emissions from incinerators since 1996. All EfW plants are new o

have been significantly modified to meet the much tighter emission standards under the European

Waste Incineration Directive.

The contribution to pollution from EfW plants is very small compared to other sources, such as traffic

road development and other industrial sites.

33. Is it true that a study established a definite link between cancer and living near an energy

from waste plant?

This is not true. Even the most careful and detailed high quality research studies have failed to

demonstrate elevated risks of cancer associated with the emissions from energy from waste (EfW)

plants.  Work by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) at Imperial College, London

University, which examined cancer incidence of over 14 million people living near to 72 municipal solid

waste incinerators in Great Britain (from 1974-1986 (England), 1974-1984 (Wales), and 1975-1987

(Scotland) failed to find any convincing evidence of an increase in cancer rates due to the incinerators.

This is despite the fact that emissions of dioxins from the older generation of incinerators are around

ten to one hundred times greater than those from modern EfW plants.

The UK Government’s expert advisory Committee on Carcinogenicity reviewed the results of this

further investigation and concluded that any potential risk of cancer due to living near to EfW plants for

more than ten years was exceedingly low.

Impact on the environment

35. Don’t energy from waste plants produce more carbon emissions than coal fired power


No.  Coal-fired power stations produce many more time more carbon dioxide than incinerators.  Whilst

a coal-fired power will generate energy more efficiently than an incinerator generating electricity only

(i.e. no CHP) these stations are much larger than incinerators and use more carbon rich fuels.

36. Do energy from waste plants contribute more to global warming than landfilling waste?

No. Energy from waste plants do produce carbon dioxide gas as a result of burning waste. However,

the energy they produce replaces that generated by other fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas that

would otherwise be burnt at power stations to generate electricity. Landfilling waste generates both

methane and carbon dioxide gases. Methane has a global warming potential of more than twenty

times that of carbon dioxide.

Environment Agency publications

What’s in my backyard?

Position statement on waste incineration in waste management strategies

Booklet on municipal waste incineration

Regional Strategic Waste Management Assessments

Technical guidance on waste incineration

Enforcement and Prosecution Policy

All of the above can be obtained via our website at

Download information pack Q&A : Information_Pack_-_QA_(2) (1)

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