Campaigners claim residents living near incinerators being ‘used as guinea pigs’

Campaigners claim that people living near incinerators are effectively being used as guinea pigs by councils, who do not yet know the possible dangers of their emissions.

Anti-incinerator campaigners gathered outside the waste burning facility in Beddington Lane, Croydon, on Sunday, ahead of plans to increase the amount of waste it burns each year.

Nicholas Matty, 70, who owns a business in Hawker Road, Croydon, and is a councillor for Sutton council, was present at the protest. 

He said: “The air can get chokey, and sometimes we get this haze and you can smell burning plastic.

“I knock on peoples doors and speak to local GP’s – there are huge cases of asthma around here.”

He said it seems like “they’re experimenting on the people who don’t have enough money to move – they don’t know what the long-term effects are – it’s like guinea pigs”.

Campaigners, residents and councillors protest outside the Beddington Lane incinerator (Picture: Jim Duffy)

A public consultation opened by the Environment Agency over whether the incinerator will be granted a license to burn 10 per cent more waste each year closes today.

If allowed this would see the incinerator – owned by waste management company Viridor – burning 382,286 tonnes of waste each year.

The Beddington Lane incinerator was built as part of a 25-year, £1billion contract with the South London Waste Partnership (SLWP) which includes Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Sutton councils.

Public Health England has said: “Modern, well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health.”

But Croydon council said it was opposed to the expansion of the incinerator, and “challenged” the Environment Agency on emissions exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.

A Croydon council spokesman said: “We want to see the site operate within its original purpose, and Croydon council representatives met with the Environmental Agency earlier this week to raise our concerns about any proposed expansion of the facility and challenged them on the fact that the site is exceeding the WHO’s recommended levels.”

However, an SLWP statement acknowledged Viridor is “investing a significant amount of money and effort into tackling the issues” and that exceeding the WHO limits “were extremely fleeting”.

Michael Ryan, 73, of Swanton Road, Erith, suffered the loss of two children under circumstances he claims were linked to pollution caused by an incinerator he used to live near at Shrewsbury hospital.

In 1985, Mr Ryan’s 14-week-old daughter died from “issues with her lungs” and in 1999 his 16-year-old son died of Leukemia.

Since the death of two of his children, Mr Ryan has committed to researching the health implications of incinerators.

Michael Ryan photographed next to an incinerator in Shrewsbury (Picture: Steve Ryan)

He said: “I’ve used Office of National Statistics (ONS) data and seen a consistent link between incinerator emissions and higher infant death rates. I’m horrified.

“We’ve lost two children, I just can’t believe this has gone on.”

Mr Ryan claims that data from the ONS which he had to spend money to obtain contradicts Public Health England’s statement regarding the safety of incinerators.

Data he has collected shows the infant death rate in three wards in Croydon increase after the Beddington Lane incinerator started operating in 2019. However, it should be noted that none of the data sets give a cause of death.

Between 2002 and 2013 infant mortality rates in Selhurst were 5.3 per 1,000 live births. This rose to 22.7 in the year 2019 alone, a 233 per cent increase. 

In Broad Green rates rose from 9.7 to 15.2, a 56 per cent increase and in Waddon the rates rose by 64 per cent from 4.8 to 7.4.

In another example, Mr Ryan refers to the incinerator at the Cory Riverside Energy plant in Norman Road, Belvedere, which started operating in 2011.

ONS data shows that between 2011 and 2021, Bexley’s infant death rate rose from 2.9 per 1,000 live births to six per 1,000. Causes of death were not given in this data set.

A major study by Imperial College from 2019 found a “small increase” in risk for children living within 10km of an incinerator being born with a heart defect.

But Professor Mireille Toledano, chair in perinatal and paediatric environmental epidemiology at Imperial, said: “This increase may not be related directly to emissions from the incinerators. 

“It is important to consider other potential factors such as the increased pollution from industrial traffic in these areas or the specific population mix that lives in those areas.”

Imperial professor Paul Elliott, who also took part in the study, said: The findings on birth defects are inconclusive, but our study design means we cannot rule out that living closer to an incinerator in itself may slightly increase the risk of some specific defects.”

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: “We will not issue an environmental permit for a site if we consider that activities taking place will cause significant pollution to the environment or harm to human health.

“We welcome comments on environmental and health issues and where people have particular local knowledge.”

A spokeswoman from Viridor said: “The Beddington Energy Recovery Facility holds an environmental permit, issued by the Environment Agency, that ensures the facility operates within stringent operational limits to protect both human health and the environment.

“During the planning and permitting process for the Energy Recovery facility including the proposed permit variation, Viridor carried out a comprehensive environmental impact assessment including air and ground quality assessments.”

Shrewsbury hospital have been approached for comment.

Pictured top: From left, Verity Thompson, Karin Jashapara, Cath, Jim Duffy, Gay McDonagh, Jay Ginn, Tracey Hague, Peter Underwood at the protest on Sunday (Picture: Jim Duffy)

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One thought on “Campaigners claim residents living near incinerators being ‘used as guinea pigs’

  • Jim Duffy

    Great article. Very well written and clear about the issues at a time when Viridor have applied to the Environment Agency to burn more waste in Beddington on the Sutton-Croydon border.

    Independent researcher Michael Ryan was interviewed about the health effects of incineration as he had found an increase in infant mortality rates downwind from this and many other incinerators.

    I believe it is unjustifiable to knowingly permit the deaths of young children in order to prop up the profits of a large company.

    Professor Paul Elliot who in previous studies has defended waste incineration, answers the question whether these infant deaths were caused by living downwind from the incinerator. He does not dismiss it and says the design of his (SAHSU) study does not rule it out. “… living close to an incinerator in itself may slightly increase the risk of some specific defects.”

    Professor Toledano also from Imperial College, suggests that the increased infant mortality rates could be attributed to increased heavy traffic or the population mix. But these reasons could not possibly account for a sudden spike in infant mortality after nearly two decades of lower rates. Some other environmental hazard caused that in my opinion and that could only be the huge pollution from the recently built incinerator.

    I hope fair-minded professionals in the Environment Agency will call a halt now to the steady (and unnecessary) increase in waste incineration at Beddington.


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