24 January 2012

Public concern leads to new incinerator health study

A new study to further extend the evidence base as to whether emissions from modern well run municipal waste incinerators affect human health has been approved by the Health Protection Agency.

The HPA says that its current position, that well run and regulated modern Municipal Waste Incinerators (MWIs) are not a significant risk to public health, remains valid (see letsrecycle.com story). But the organisation has commissioned a new study to extend the evidence base and to provide further information to the public on this subject.

The HPA's current position is that well run and regulated modern Municipal Waste Incinerators are not a significant risk to public health

The HPA’s current position is that well run and regulated modern Municipal Waste Incinerators are not a significant risk to public health

The HPA announced today (January 24) that it will be funding the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London, and the Environmental Research Group at Kings College London, both part of the MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health, to carry out the study.

For a distance of up to 10-15 kilometres from MWIs operating in the England and Wales, scientists will research whether there is a potential link between the emissions from MWIs and health outcomes, including: low birth weight, still births and infant deaths.

Researchers will also investigate any possible link between MWI emissions and babies born with congenital anomalies, such as cleft palate and spina bifida, in areas where good quality data is available.

Current position

HPA chief executive Justin McCracken said: It is important to stress that our current position on the potential health effects of well run and regulated modern Municipal Waste Incinerators remains valid. This is that while it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects from modern, well regulated municipal waste incinerators with complete certainty, any potential damage to the health of those living close-by is likely to be very small, if detectable. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that modern and well managed municipal waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants.

However, we recognise that there are public concerns about this issue and this study will provide valuable new evidence. HPA continually seeks to review and extend the evidence base on which it bases its advice. We are therefore delighted to support this new study with researchers from the MRC-HPA Centre for Environment and Health.

Emissions

In the study, emissions exposure will be estimated by dispersion modelling using data from MWIs that is provided to the Environment Agency as required by their environmental permits.

Areas with good data on congenital anomalies ainclude North East of England, the West and East Midlands and Wales. The study will examine the risk to all congenital anomalies, including separate analysis of subsets such as: cleft lip, cleft palate, major heart defects, respiratory defects and anomalies of the neural tube, abdominal wall, or urinary tract.

The study will start in April 2012 with preliminary results expected in March 2014.

Related Links

HPA current position on MWIs

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