Readers may remember that when Cllr John Field tabled a question about the health impact of pollution in July’s Full Council meeting he found on the day that his question – although submitted correctly, and acknowledged as such by the Suffolk County Council Monitoring Officer – had been disappeared from the Full Council agenda and therefore coud be neither asked nor answered.
To remind you, it related to the Great Blakenham incinerator and was asked of the Cabinet Member for Environment, Waste and Economic Development (Richard Smith). John Field asked:
The “Escape” study published in the Lancet Oncology journal indicated substantial increases in Lung Cancer at levels of PM2.5 and PM10 pollution significantly below the EEC recommended limits. A second study from Nicholas Mills also in the Lancet linked heart failure rates to PM2.5 and PM10 pollution. These studies raise concern in the population local to the incinerator under construction in Gt Blakenham whose emissions are designed to meet European standards. While I don’t wish to be alarmist these new studies warrant attention. Will the Cabinet member ensure that the implications of these reports for my division and the wider area are studied thoroughly and reported to councillors and local people?
After being chased up, a response from the Cabinet Member was eventually forthcoming – although far from helpful. It went as follows:
“The Lancet reports referenced in the question refer to the medical consequences of air pollution, although no direct reference appears to be made to incinerators, or energy from waste plants, as a specific source of the air pollution problems in the summaries of these reports. The reports help from a backdrop for the vigilance required when dealing with potential sources of air pollution. To this end, the ultimate responsibility for the control of air pollution, and specifically emission limits, lies with the regulatory authorities who will have our full support.
The Council’s Energy from Waste contract signed with SITA UK has 6 principal obligations, the relevant one in this case being that the Service be provided in accordance with legislation. The emission limits for the facility at Great Blakenham will be monitored by both SITA and the Environment Agency for compliance with the statutory limits.
The County Council does not have the primary role of monitoring the emissions, neither does it have the technical expertise and knowledge so as stated above we will ensure that the relevant statutory bodies have our full support in the carrying out of their duties.
SITA have designed and constructed the plant to perform well within the current emission limits, and have published their emission policies as far as monitoring and publicising them are concerned. The links to these documents are:- http://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/SuffolkEfWCLGAirQuality-web-1101.pdf, http://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/EfW-BriefingNote-web-1106.pdf, http://www.sita.co.uk/downloads/SuffolkEfWBriefingNoteAirQuality-web-1206.pdf
However, a failure to keep within the emission limits could have serious consequences, not only for the health of Suffolk residents, but also the delivery of the service. The County Council will ensure emissions information is published once the facility becomes operational, and currently publishes quarterly reports of air quality in the locality on its website.
The European Union and the UK Government employ experts who keep emission limits under regular review so if at any stage the emission limits for energy from waste facilities are changed, there are clauses within the contract which allow for the necessary capital expenditure to be approved, and the consequent cost of the service to be amended.
Give the above we are confident that the emissions at the Energy from Waste plant will be well managed.”
It is not easy to see where this confidence comes from. The whole burden of this reply – in as many unnecessary words as possible – is that as long as the EU emission limits are adhered to, who cares if the Lancet has found increased incidence (please note ‘incidence’ – not risks but actual occurrence) of lung cancer and heart failure at well below EU emission limits?
Its hard to see how anyone could write these paragraphs as an answer to John Field’s question. They are clearly nothing more than an excuse for not answering the question.
“None of our business guv.”
Or as John Field more politely puts it: “This answer is very general and does not address the possible need for a new evaluation of the pollution in Gipping Valley.”