An incinerator in South Wales which takes waste from Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend councils has had to temporarily halt operations after breaching strict emissions limits set out in its environmental permit.
Test results from the Materials Recovery and Energy Centre at Crymlyn Burrows, Swansea, have indicated that the site has exceeded the permitted limit for dioxin emissions on two occasions.
Officers from the Environment Agency Wales have now launched an investigation and the plant will not re-open until the cause of the breaches is established.
The operator, Neath Port Talbot Recycling, which is owned by Neath Port Talbot council, is co-operating fully with the Environment Agency.
Dioxins are produced by fires, including bonfires and car exhausts, which can have an impact on peoples health.
Steve Brown, area manager for Environment Agency Wales said: Environmental permits are there to make sure that local people and the environment are protected from the impact of sites like these.
They have strict conditions and emission controls which we will enforce. The operator is complying fully with our investigation.
We will make sure they do all that they can to rectify this problem as a matter of urgency and we will consider taking further action if it is appropriate.
Neath Port Talbot Recycling accepted a formal caution from the Agency last year following emission breaches from the site in 2010. A stricter monitoring regime is in place following those incidents.
“We have carried out more cleaning so are hopeful that when we next have the emissions tested before Christmas it will be ok”
Will Watson, Neath Port Talbot Recycling Ltd
Environment Agency Wales is continuing to investigate and collect evidence and consider if further action should be taken against the operators of the site.
Huw Brunt from the Public Health Wales said: Raised levels of dioxin emissions over a short time period are unlikely to pose an appreciable health risk to the local population.
However, a number of breaches of the dioxin emission limit have been reported at this site over the past couple of years.
This recurring problem raises associated public health concerns and we would like to see this situation resolved as soon as possible.
Neath Port Talbot Recycling has already started cleaning work on a section of the plant which it believed could be the cause of the breach. This follows improvement works at the plant which were carried out in 2010 (see letsrecycle.com story).
Will Watson, director of Neath Port Talbot Recycling, told letsrecycle.com: We did have an emissions problem two years ago which we resolved by carrying out a lot of remediation work to various parts of the plant and intensive cleaning. The next 15 dioxin tests after that were ok, but we did not identify the precise cause. So when we had the breach in September this year we cleaned an external duct and the levels of dioxin in the next test fell but not below the level required.
We have carried out more cleaning so are hopeful that when we next have the emissions tested before Christmas it will be ok. If that solves the problem we would then endeavour to carry out deep cleaning every six months in future.
Mr Watson added that the temporary closure of the incinerator had not caused major disruption to the Materials Recovery and Energy Centre, because only 10% of the waste which came onto site was incinerated, amounting to around 10,000 tonnes a year.
The Agency said that incinerator will not start routinely operating again until the company can demonstrate it is in compliance with its permit.