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Incineration how safe is it ? PDF Print E-mail
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I was persuaded to sign a petition as part of a successful campaign preventing the building of a local incinerator. Now I’m wondering if I was too hasty: I know that we can’t continue just dumping waste in the ground — is incineration safe?An incinerator will be harmful to health — think of your children.

It will emit a serious smell. It will be unsightly and, the final weapon in the anti-incinerator armoury, having one nearby is sure to bring down the value of your house.

Amid all the emotion and Nimbyism about waste disposal, the facts tend to go up in smoke. Modern incinerators are far more efficient and well-designed than those of only 15 years ago.

According to a recent report by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), air pollution — expressed in volumes of what’s called particulate matter — is a tiny fraction of that caused by the exhaust fumes from cars and lorries.“The evidence suggests that any potential damage to the health of those living close to incinerators is likely to be very small, if detectable,” the HPA says.

The Germans, Swedes and Danes have been happily incinerating on a big scale for years. The UK at present has 23 incinerators in operation, with another 70-80 planned. Burn it, don’t bury it is the new catchphrase: as you say, we can’t go on shoving our refuse into holes in the ground.

Landfill creates large amounts of methane, one of the most potent of greenhouse gases. If we don’t find alternative ways of dealing with waste, the EU will clobber the UK with ever-bigger fines.While the health issue might not be so important, incineration does give rise to other problems.

A modern incinerator, capable of not only burning enormous amounts of rubbish but also of generating energy to be fed into the grid, is an extremely expensive piece of kit. Waste companies want to be sure that they will have enough waste in the future to justify their investment.

The trouble is that it’s very difficult to forecast just how much waste will be generated in the years ahead. After all, we’re all being told to recycle as much as possible: in some areas waste volumes are already falling.What’s needed are smaller high-tech incinerators on the edge of most big towns and cities.

But the waste business talks of “economies of scale” — the bigger the plant, the more cost-effective it is.It’s a real conundrum, so don’t worry too much about being confused. We all are.

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