Your views

Ian Ireland: local councils look after public health – so why do they back incinerators?

It’s time local authorities woke up to the danger incinerators pose to public health, says Ian Ireland, who opposes an incinerator plan near his home
Incinerator

Its time local authorities woke up to the danger incinerators pose to public health, says Ian Ireland, who opposes an incinerator plan near his home

Should nurses be concerned about incineration? Yes they should. There is clear evidence the process can damage public health directly from pollutants and indirectly by depressing investment in the areas close to incineration plants.

I live in a valley where an application to build an incinerator has been approved by the planning department. Local authorities now have responsibility for public health, so this seems like a perverse decision.

I am opposed to this development and Im sure some people will immediately think NIMBY. But not in my back yard isnt my motivation. The proposal has caused me to look at the whole issue of

...

It’s time local authorities woke up to the danger incinerators pose to public health, says Ian Ireland, who opposes an incinerator plan near his home


‘Public health concerns should put paid to new incinerator plans’  Photo: Alamy

Should nurses be concerned about incineration? Yes they should. There is clear evidence the process can damage public health – directly from pollutants and indirectly by depressing investment in the areas close to incineration plants.

I live in a valley where an application to build an incinerator has been approved by the planning department. Local authorities now have responsibility for public health, so this seems like a perverse decision.

I am opposed to this development and I’m sure some people will immediately think ‘NIMBY’. But ‘not in my back yard’ isn’t my motivation. The proposal has caused me to look at the whole issue of incineration and whether or not it is something to support.

We don’t need them

The first question is: do we need any more incinerators? A report by the independent consultancy Eunomia published December 2016, titled Residual Waste Infrastructure Review, examines the issue in depth. It highlights how Europe as a whole may end up with over-capacity in incineration. This, combined with concern that more incineration leads to less recycling, must surely place a huge question mark over new developments.

Incinerators are built in response to the need to dispose of waste and generate power. Plus there is a perceived potential for prosperity associated with new development.

But there are reasons too why they should not be built and these include damage to health, detriment to the local area thanks to the arrival of huge and unsightly industrial plant, and increased deprivation in neighbouring communities.

Health should be top priority

As a nurse, the key consideration for me is health. The World Health Organization states that valleys, areas near ridges and wooded places should be avoided as incinerator sites because they tend to channel air.

A  2008 report by the British Society for Ecological Medicine, concluded: ‘Incineration does not remove waste. It simply converts it into another form (gas, particulates, ash) and these new forms are typically more hazardous though less visible than in the original form.’ 

Large epidemiological studies have shown higher rates of adult and childhood cancers and birth defects in populations living around incinerators. Smaller studies and a large body of related research support these findings, point to a causal relationship, and suggest that a much wider range of illnesses might be involved. Modern incinerators produce toxic fly ash, which contains large quantities of dioxin-rich material for which there is no safe method of disposal, except vitrification, a method not used in the UK.

Foetal exposure to toxins

But surely the greatest concern is the long-term effects of incinerator emissions on the developing embryo and infant, and the possibility that genetic changes will occur and be passed on to succeeding generations. Far greater vulnerability to toxins has been documented for the very young, particularly foetuses, with risk of cancer, spontaneous abortion, birth defects or permanent cognitive damage. A worryingly high body burden of pollutants has recently been reported in two studies of cord blood from newborn babies.

These studies, and many others, clearly demonstrate the effects on the health of people living near incinerators. Which brings me back to the question: if local authorities are taking their responsibility for public health at all seriously, how on earth can they give planning approval for facilities that will harm the health of the communities around them?


Ian Ireland is a health and social care consultant

 

 

 

Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs