Results from part of a Public Health England-funded study into the impacts of municipal waste incinerators in the UK have shown no evidence of incinerator emissions around four facilities.
And, while metal emissions were detected within 10km of two other facilities in Wolverhampton and Stockton-on-Tees, these were found to contribute very little to local particulate matter pollution levels in comparison to other sources, such as road traffic.
Published in the journal Atmospheric Environment*, the research focused on analysis of metal particle emissions a primary emission from waste incinerators including: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, nickel, vanadium and mercury.
The aim of the paper was to determine the proportion of these emissions attributable to waste incineration within 10km of six facilities: the Wolverhampton Civic Incinerator; Dudleys Lister Road incinerator; Suez Environnements Stockton-on-Tees EfW; the former HLC Crymlyn Burrows incinerator near Swansea; Veolias Sheffield EfW and; SELCHP plant in Lewisham.
The findings will form part of an as-yet-unpublished overall report into the potential health impacts of UK municipal waste incinerators, which was first announced in January 2012 by what was then called the Health Protection Agency, but has since been split between Public Health England (PHE) and the Scottish Government (see AirQualityNews.com story).
Using stack emission samples of heavy metals from the incinerators, researchers were able to fingerprint incinerator emissions from other background sources, with ratios found to be consistent with emissions from burning electronic waste, mixed paper and plastics, and batteries materials all expected to be found in municipal waste.
Led by scientists from Imperial College London, Kings College London and the National Physical Laboratory, the study paper considered emissions measurements in the areas over periods ranging from 2 to 5.5 years and also took into account the possible impacts of meteorological conditions.
All the waste incinerators studied used the same abatement techniques to cutting emissions, including the injection of activated carbon to capture mercury and the use of bag filters to remove particulates.
And, overall, no particle pollution was found from four incinerators, while emissions from the remaining two facilities were found to be at levels around 1/100th and 1/1,000th of the particle pollution from other sources.
In London, for example, the ambient particle detection site identified that traffic was the main source of metals in central London.
The study concludes:
From our analysis we found no evidence of incinerator emissions in ambient metal concentrations around four UK MWIs [municipal waste incinerators]. The six UK MWIs studied contributed little to ambient PM10 [particulate matter] concentrations.
The paper also notes that emissions of heavy metals from incinerators are expected to decrease in future due to new limits placed on the use of hazardous substances in electronic equipment in the EU Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, which came into force in January 2013.
Other research papers forming part of the final PHE and Scottish Government-funded report into UK waste incinerators are also looking at the potential link between incinerator emissions and health outcomes such as low birth weight, still births and infant deaths.
Originally earmarked for publication in March 2014, the final report has faced several postponements due to unanticipated complexity in gathering data reportedly caused by having to enter emissions data into an electronic format manually before statistical analysis could begin, which has led to claims from some environmental groups of a cover up (see AirQualityNews.com story).
The report was commissioned in response to public concern over possible health impacts from waste incinerators, but as it stands, PHEs position remains that well run and regulated modern municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health.
In total, areas of up to 15km surrounding all 22 UK waste incinerators in operation between 2003 and 2010 will be looked at in the overall report, including: Grundons Lakeside energy-from-waste facility; the LondonWaste Edmonton incinerator and; the Dundee Energy Recycling Ltd waste incinerator in Baldovie, Scotland.
The studies are being funded by Public Health England, the Scottish Government and the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health, with research led by scientists from Imperial College London and Kings College London.
*Atmospheric Environment, Volume 113, July 2015, Elsevier.