France condemned for poor incinerator standards

The European Court of Justice has condemned France for failing to comply with legislation designed to reduce dangerous emissions from waste incinerators.

The issue arose following a complaint to the European Commission that the incinerator at Maubeuge did not comply with the combustion conditions laid down in the European directives on the prevention of air pollution from incineration plants. These state that the temperature of combustion gases must be raised to 850°C for at least two seconds in the presence of at least 6% oxygen.

The Commission then became aware of a survey from 1996 compiled by the French Ministry of Regional Planning and the Environment that revealed that there were 40 large incinerators not complying with the European legislation.

A 1999 press release – also from the Ministry of the Environment – also indicated that by that time there were still 12 incineration plants not complying with the legislation.

The French Government then admitted to the Commission that at the beginning of 1998, 27 incinerators had been operating without complying with European law, and at the beginning of the following year there were 12 failing to comply, nine of which were exceeding discharge limits. By the end of 1999, the number had fallen to seven facilities in breach of the rules, namely those at Angers, Douchy, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Le Mans, Maubeuge and Rouen.

In court, the French Government defended itself by stating that it had embarked on a vigorous programme to comply with the rules, enabling the number of plants not complying to fall from 40 in December 1996 to seven at the end of 1999. However, the Court did not agree, pointing out that 1996 was actually six years after the time-limit for implementing the legislation had expired.

The French Government was ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings.

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