Inquiry is ordered into incinerators and health hazards they may pose
by Mark Metcalf, Tribune Magazine
June 8th, 2011
A team from Imperial College, London, has been commissioned to carry out the inquiry by the Health Protection Agency after fears were raised about the health risks of incinerators, particularly for young children.
Dozens of incinerators have been built around the country as Britain struggles to cope with its mounting refuse problems. But campaigners have become concerned that the price is being paid with poor health among babies and infants in the localities where such amenities are sited.
One such activist is Michael Ryan, who lives in Shrewsbury, and who lost his only daughter at 14 weeks – and then suffered further personal tragedies when his teenage son and his mother both died, too. All lived downwind of an incinerator.
Mr Ryan began a painstaking piece of research into the subject of health – and deaths – of people living in close proximity to incinerators. The results from London are startling. In 12 of the capital’s 625 wards, there were no infant deaths between 2002 and 2008. But Southwark, which has two incinerators close by, had the highest rate with 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in that period.
Critics say it’s not microscopic particles from incinerators that kill babies and young children, but poverty. And while it is true that some people living close to incinerators are at the lower end of the social scale, Mr Ryan’s research reveals that death rates in more affluent middle class areas are higher if there is an incinerator nearby.
Affluent Chingford Green ward in Waltham Forest has the second highest average number of child deaths in London. It happens to be close to Britain’s largest incinerator.
“If it’s all about poverty, then how come the levels of infant mortality in countryside areas, where wages have always been below average, aren’t high?” asks Mr Ryan.
Now, to cries of “at last” from Mr Ryan, HPA head Justin McCracken has said that following discussions with Professor Paul Elliott, head of the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College, it has been “concluded that an epidemiological study of birth outcomes around municipal waste incinerators would produce reliable results. Work is now progressing in developing a detailed proposal for what will be a complex study.”
In 2004, a study in Japan found a “peak decline in risk with distance from the municipal solid waste incinerators for infant deaths and infant deaths with all congenital malformations combined”.