Fifteen deaths of London residents per year are attributable to emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from the capital’s five energy from waste (EfW) facilities, a report claims.
The study, ‘Health Effects due to Emissions from Energy from Waste Plant in London’, was commissioned in 2019 by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which includes the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Available on the Mayor of London/London Assembly website, the report states: “In total, 15 deaths of London residents per year are calculated to be attributable to emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from the five EfW facilities.”
It highlights findings said to show that emissions from the facilities have the greatest impact on residents in neighbouring areas. It says: “Emissions from the five EfW facilities within Greater London are predicted to be associated with 15 deaths of London residents per year, as well as 0.9 respiratory hospital admissions and 0.8 cardiovascular hospital admissions per year.
“There is significant spatial variation within these figures, with a general east-west gradient. For example, the number of deaths brought forward per capita is more than eight times higher in Havering than in Hillingdon, and more than half of all attributable deaths are predicted to occur within nine boroughs (Havering, Croydon, Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Lewisham, and Southwark).”
The researchers separately undertook a review of ‘relevant literature’. From this, they concluded that any potential health risks associated with direct emissions from “modern, effectively managed and regulated” EfW plants in London were “exceedingly low”.
The report was written by Air Quality Consultants Ltd, which was instructed to undertake a study of the impacts of EfW facilities in London on air quality and human health. The resulting report was published on 26 August.
The five EfW facilities in London assessed by the study are the South East London Combined Heat and Power (SELCHP) plant in Lewisham, the Cory Riverside Resource Recovery in Belvedere, the Viridor Beddington Energy Recovery Facility in Sutton, the proposed Thames Gateway Energy Generation Facility in Dagenham, and the Edmonton EcoPark ERF, which is undergoing a proposed upgrade.
The contribution of the facilities to annual mean concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are greatest close to the plants, the report says. There is also a general trend of higher EfW-related concentrations in the east of London, the report says, reflecting both the prevailing wind directions and the spatial distribution of the facilities.
The lowest concentrations are to the west of London, where there are no EfW plants.
The study focused on mortality and hospital admissions, as these are the outcomes for which Defra reports a strong association, the report says.
“Emissions from the five EfW facilities within Greater London are predicted to be associated with 15 deaths of London residents per year”
It used dispersion modelling of emissions from the facilities, making use of on-site emissions measurements reported to the Environment Agency where available.
The dispersion model results were combined with published demographic information from 2017/18 and with exposure-response coefficients published by Defra in 2019 to calculate the number of deaths brought forward by emissions from the five facilities.
The study only considered primary emissions and did not take account of the potential for gaseous emissions from the facilities to form particulate matter via chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
Mayor of London
Mr Khan has maintained a longstanding opposition to EfW facilities. In May 2019 he called on the government to stop permitting the building of “archaic polluting waste incinerators” as he outlined his opposition to Cory Riverside Energy’s proposed second EfW facility in south east London. He stated his belief that burning waste worsened London’s air quality and hindered boroughs from reaching recycling and waste reduction targets.
At the same time the GLA announced it had commissioned a review of the current available evidence on the local impacts of EfW on people’s health in London.
In August 2020 Mr Khan said he had secured a judicial review into the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to grant permission for Cory’s Belvedere plant, saying “no more waste incinerators are needed in London” (see letsrecycle.com story).
He abandoned his push for a judicial review into the facility earlier this month, blaming the “substantial costs” of proceeding to a full hearing (see letsrecycle.com story).
Environmental Services Association
In response to the report, the Environmental Services Association (ESA) — the trade association representing the UK’s resource and waste management sector — accused its authors of producing an “entirely notional, yet emotive, outcome” (see letsrecycle.com story).*
*[Updated 22/10/20 to add a response from the ESA]