Environmentalists use US dioxin study to battle against incinerators

A leaked report on the impact of dioxin exposure on cancer rates in America is fuelling speculation that the final version of the now overdue waste strategy for England and Wales will include plans for fewer incinerators and more recycling.

A draft of the national waste strategy, A way with waste, was published last year and its plans to increase incineration capacity substantially – to dispose of 1/3 of waste by 2020 – angered environmentalists (see related story).

The final waste strategy is likely to be published on 24 May, a Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions spokesperson told edie. The spokesperson would not say whether last-minute changes are being make to tone down the emphasis on incineration.

Following the leaked report, which was commissioned by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and leaked to the Washington Post, Friends of the Earth UK said that the study would give activists campaigning against the building of about 165 incinerators across England and Wales substantial ammunition.

The EPA report allegedly states that dioxins – which is among the substances released by incinerators – may be responsible for about 10% of the country’s cancer rates. Reporting on the EPA study, The Guardian also referred to research by a group of German scientists, published last year, which “concluded that dioxins might be responsible for 12% of human cancers in industrialised countries”.

A spokesperson for the energy-from-waste sector (representing companies which operate or plan to build incinerators which recover the heat created through incineration to generate electricity) said that the furore surrounding the EPA report was simply a case of “pressure groups upping the ante just as the strategy is being finalised”. Emphasising that energy-from-waste incinerators account for only four percent of the UK’s current dioxin output, he says that the sector supports waste minimisation and recycling, but that no one solution will solve the challenge facing the Government as it seeks to comply with looming EU Landfill Directive regulations.

“Energy-from-waste is effectively being used as a scapegoat for the Government’s failure to stimulate recycling markets,” he argues and suggests that the 165 new incinerators figure is an exaggeration. “It’s the Government’s own figure, but it seems they are working from some very crude assumptions,” says the spokesperson.

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