Operators of energy from waste facilities have defended their record on monitoring and recording particulate emissions levels, after campaigners alleged that some emissions are going unreported.
The claim was made in a report issued by the UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) pressure group yesterday, which suggested that rules governing the way that waste incinerator emissions are recorded left â€˜loopholesâ€™ for some harmful particulate matter (PM) not to be counted (see airqualitynews.com story).
Under the rules governing the permitting of energy from waste plants, which burn waste to produce energy, facility operators are required to ensure that their plants do not exceed emissions levels for both PM10 and PM2.5 above 1 tonne per year.
Should the emissions reach this threshold, the facility operator is required to publish data via the Agencyâ€™s pollution inventory.
However, UKWIN claims that there is currently no equipment available to carry out continuous monitoring of PM10 and PM2.5 emissions meaning that many facilities only record the total particulate matter (TPM) emitted.
This, the lobby group claims, suggests that fine particle emissions above the thresholds may have gone unreported, based on calculations on the makeup of these emissions.
Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of the UK Without Incineration Network, said: â€œFor decades incinerators in England have been emitting significant quantities of pollution and greenhouse gasses. There is a substantial cost to society associated with these harmful emissions.
â€œThis cost should be met by incinerator operators in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Operators should also be required to be more transparent about their emissions and to do more to monitor and control the pollution they cause.â€
However, these claims have been rebutted by the operators of energy from waste plants, who say that modern facilities â€˜operate well below emissions limitsâ€™.
Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at the waste industry trade body Environmental Services Association, said that individual plant testing has suggested that facilities are falling below the required thresholds.
She said: â€œEfW is one of the most tightly regulated combustion processes. Its emissions limit for particulate matter is amongst the lowest applied to any industry. EfW plants continuously monitor particulate matter, which captures PM10 and PM2.5, which is reported to and independently verified by the Environment Agency. Results show that the average EfW operates well below the emissions limit.
â€œThere are no separate emissions limits for PM10 and PM2.5 because levels are below what modern continuous monitoring equipment can accurately categorise. Plants do however test for PM10 and PM2.5 levels which will produce more accurate data based on individual plant measurements rather than the emissions factor cited in the report, and these figures may well be below the reporting threshold for the Environment Agency pollution inventory.
She added that studies have suggested that EfWs â€œmake only a small contribution to air pollutionâ€ and that health impacts from the plants are likely to be â€œvery small and not detectableâ€.
She said: â€œA study funded by Public Health England and led by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College concluded last year that, â€œOverall [â€¦] PM10 exposures related to [EfW] emissions in Great Britain are extremely low [â€¦] especially when compared to annual mean background concentrations.â€
Ms Peake also commented that the contribution of EfW plants to overall PM10 levels â€˜is less than 700 times that of wood burning stoves.