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Health impact of incinerators must be studied, says new report

A major study on the potential health impacts of controversial waste incinerators should be carried out, a committee has recommended today.

The National Assembly for Wales’ Petitions Committee said the Welsh Government should consider contributing to such a study.

It made the call after it was given expert evidence that emissions from an incineration plant were likely to contain more contaminants than emissions from a conventional power plant.

Toxicologist professor Vyvyan Howard, of Ulster University, told AMs in May that incineration plants burned waste, including heavy metals and synthetic plastics that were likely to cause poisonous fumes.

And despite conceding that an official UK government study failed to establish convincing links between incinerator emissions and public health problems, the committee today says the Welsh Government should look into it.

The news comes as an incinerator planned for Cardiff has sparked major opposition locally.

Viridor Waste Management’s plant, which has gained planning permission to build in Splott’s Trident Park, is in pole position for the tender of Prosiect Gwyrdd, a partnership between five councils – Caerphilly, Cardiff, Monmouthshire, Newport and the Vale of Glamorgan – which aims to find a solution for their combined waste.

The collective waste of the councils makes up 40% of Wales’ overall waste.

Today’s report says the Welsh Government should consider helping explore potential risks associated with the release of very small particles from incinerators.

It added that by working with the UK government, the EU and other stakeholders, a major health review could help alleviate the fears of anti-incineration groups.

The committee chair, Mid and West Wales AM William Powell, said: “The committee has made this recommendation as a way to address the concerns of the petitioners who brought this issue to our attention.

“We recognise that the Welsh Government and local authorities need to find a reliable way to deal with the relentless stream of waste and we have no doubts that the debate surrounding its disposal will continue for some time.

“This is clearly an issue people feel passionately about and the committee is encouraged by the dedication of those petitioners who continue to seek more efficient and sustainable ways for us to live within our own ecological footprint here in Wales.”

The original petition calling for a review of waste disposal services, and in particular Prosiect Gwyrdd, came from Terry Evans, the chair of the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG), who successfully campaigned against a £400m energy-from-waste plant near Merthyr Tydfil last year.

He said there were “many, many better technologies” to treat waste than dioxin-producing incineration, such as mechanical biological treatment (MBT).

Mr Evans said: “That petition is very much relevant to the whole of Wales because incineration should be the last resort for the job of leftover waste.

“There are many, many better technologies for waste.

“There are still big question marks on health issues over incineration and in the last couple of years, things have come up about incineration and the health risks.

“Why should the Welsh Government take the risk of incineration when there are better methods safety-wise and better economical alternatives?

“We just don’t understand their blinkered approach.

“Let’s hope it goes to plenary in January or February and responsible AMs will ask questions of the government.”

Mr Evans added one of the biggest problems with the construction of incinerators was that they required lengthy contracts lasting 25 years.

He said with the Welsh Government committed to a target of 70% waste recycling by 2025, long-binding contracts for incineration didn’t make sense.

“The biggest damning thing about incinerators is that they require 25-year contracts of waste,” he said.

“Other technologies require about nine years.

“We are the only country in the world that is going up this road.

“Every other country is backtracking or other countries won’t have it at all and yet our government has chosen not to change it.

“They want to give companies contracts today on a tonnage that will not be there in 2025.”

Read more: Wales Online

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