Incinerators: Health Hazards

Department of Health and Social Care written question – answered at on 18 May 2023.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of emissions from incinerators on the health of (1) the local population as a whole, and (2) babies and children in particular.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of burning of plastics on respiratory disease in areas surrounding incinerator plants.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

To ask His Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the production of nitrogen oxides at waste incinerators in relation to (1) decreased lung function, (2) increases in respiratory symptoms, (3) asthma prevalence and incidence, (4) cancer incidence, (5) adverse birth outcomes, and (6) mortality.

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) position on incinerators is that modern, well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators (MWIs) are not a significant risk to public health. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that these incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants.

Public Health England funded a study by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London which found no link between exposure to emissions from, or living close to, MWIs and infant deaths or reduced foetal growth. The study also found no evidence of increased risk of congenital anomalies from exposure to MWI chimney emissions, but a small potential increase in risk of congenital anomalies for children born within ten kilometres of MWIs. A causal association between the increased risk of congenital anomalies for children born close to MWIs has not been established.

UKHSA has not received or commissioned any assessments on disposing of plastic waste by incineration. UKHSA’s position is that well run and regulated modern MWIs are not a significant risk to public health when incinerating the general municipal waste mix which includes plastic.

When consulted, UKHSA provides an expert and independent opinion to the regulator (Environment Agency) on the potential impacts on human health of emissions including nitrogen oxides arising from existing or proposed regulated facilities, such as MWIs. Emissions from existing regulated facilities are closely monitored and regulated by the Environment Agency.

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