New report reveals incinerators committing hundreds of pollution crimes

Last edited 22 May 2001 at 8:00am
22 May, 2001

A Greenpeace climber inside Sheffield incinerator

Greenpeace takes direct action to shut worst incinerator in England 

A new report published today reveals that incinerators in England are committing hundreds of pollution offences every year by discharging more toxic pollution than legally permitted.

The ten plants examined broke pollution laws a total of 553 times in 1999 and 2000 but incurred only one prosecution for the entire period. The report identifies Sheffield as being the worst incinerator in England with 156 breaches over a two-year period. Significantly, all the incinerators are in constituencies held by Labour before the current general election.

Early this morning Greenpeace volunteers scaled the chimney of the Sheffield plant and blocked the rubbish feeders, successfully shutting down operations. The volunteers will maintain the occupation until the owners agree to the permanent closure of the incinerator.

The report is based on data obtained from Environment Agency pollution registers and shows the following league table of pollution offences in 1999 and 2000:

Name of incinerator No. of offences
Sheffield 156
Stoke 40
Coventry 90
Edmonton (N London)19
Dudley 80
Tyseley 15
Wolverhampton 68
Cleveland 11
Nottingham 53
Lewisham 8

The Greenpeace action comes on the same day that the Government signs up to an international treaty in Stockholm, which is meant to eliminate some of the worst toxic chemical discharges including dioxins.

Mark Strutt, one of the volunteers occupying the chimney said

"Sheffield incinerator has an appalling criminal record and is the worst in England. It has been bombarding the people of Sheffield with toxic chemicals for too long. Enough is enough, this plant must be shut for good.

We know that burning rubbish gives off poisons that cause cancers, heart disease and breathing problems. Sheffield and the other nine incinerators already have a whole catalogue of pollution offences and the Stockholm treaty commits us to eliminating dangerous chemicals, yet still Labour will allow up to 100 more incinerators to be built."


Incineration has already become an issue in the UK general election. Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have called for a moratorium on the building of new incinerators until the threats to public health have been fully evaluated.

In contrast, Labour's waste strategy suggests a need for up to 166 new incinerators to be built in Britain without any further debate or study. Many have already submitted planning applications.

Greenpeace's report Incineration: Criminal Damage shows, firstly, that even though the emissions limits are based on what is technologically achievable and not on what is safe for human health, no incinerator manages to stay within these limits.

Secondly, that the monitoring regime is inadequate. It is entirely based on self-assessment and the range of measured pollutants is too narrow, less than half a dozen substances are continually monitored. The most toxic chemicals are only checked a few times a year, which is likely to miss any peaks in production.

The report concludes, "incineration is an unreliable and dangerous technology incapable of being regulated with proper regard to human health and the environment. Currently operating incinerators are clearly incapable of functioning safely and should be closed as soon as technically possible."

The burning of household rubbish leads to the formation of many new and toxic chemical compounds. The number of new substances released from incineration may run into thousands and these will be emitted both as toxic gases from chimneys and as contaminated ash.

People living near incinerators risk exposure to a range of toxic chemicals by breathing contaminated air or by eating contaminated produce like vegetables, eggs and milk, or by skin contact with contaminated soil.

The most notorious by-products of burning rubbish are dioxins, which are formed when substances that contain chlorine, like PVC plastic, are burnt. Dioxins are highly toxic and accumulate in the food chain. The most dangerous dioxin is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and has been described as the most toxic chemical known to science.

Last week, Greenpeace published a comprehensive review of all the scientific studies carried out on people living near to or working in incinerators. Overall the balance of evidence points to the fact that burning rubbish is bad for human health.

One study concluded that children living near 70 British incinerators were twice as likely to die from cancer. Another study on incinerator workers in Sweden showed increases in deaths from lung cancer, cancer of the oesophagus and heart disease.

Strutt added
"Labour must abandon its commitment to incineration and at the very least join the other parties in calling for a moratorium on new incinerators. The Government has a pathetic recycling target. By 2015 we will have a recycling rate less than the current rates of many other European countries. What Britain urgently needs is an intelligent waste plan that adopts a reduce, reuse and recycle approach."

Further information:
Greenpeace Press office: 020 7865 8255

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