A number of scientific reports have been produced in recent years looking into the health effects of modern energy from waste facilities. Some good examples can be found at the following websites:
The Energy from Waste Research and Technology Council
The Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants
The Health Protection Agency (the forerunner to Public Health England) review of research undertaken to examine the suggested links between emissions from municipal waste incinerators and effects on health concludes here:
“While it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects from modern, well-regulated municipal waste incinerators with complete certainty, any potential damage to the health of those living close-by is likely to be very small, if detectable. This view is based on detailed assessments of the effects of air pollutants on health and on the fact that modern and well managed municipal waste incinerators make only a very small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants. The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has reviewed recent data and has concluded that there is no need to change its previous advice, namely that any potential risk of cancer due to residency near to municipal waste incinerators is exceedingly low and probably not measurable by the most modern techniques. Since any possible health effects are likely to be very small, if detectable, studies of public health around modern, well managed municipal waste Incinerators are not recommended.”
Moreover, Imperial College, London, published a report in June 2019 which has examined the latest evidence and confirms this position. The report can be found here.
Jacob Hayler, Executive Director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) commented on the study as follows here:
“The latest study from SAHSU reflects the research unit’s own earlier findings that there are no conclusive links between exposure to EfW emissions and adverse health impacts. The paper reinforces Public Health England’s position, which remains that modern, well run and regulated municipal waste incinerators do not pose a significant risk to public health, and this should reassure anyone living near an EfW plant.
“We would however welcome further research into some health aspects raised by the report. As recognised by the researchers, other sources of pollution—as well as socio-economic dynamics—may be at play, and we would like to see further work on this subject so that we can reassure everyone that—as per the wealth of existing evidence—EfWs are a safe and clean way of dealing with non- recyclable waste whilst also generating sustainable heat and power for homes and businesses.”
A study published by scientists from King’s College London, Imperial College and the National Physical Laboratory found a minuscule contribution to airborne levels of trace metals and particulate matter from EfW plant. Dr Mark Bloomfield commented on the study as follows here:
“At four of the six sites around which the study was based, no contribution could be detected. At two of the six sites, metal ratios consistent with municipal waste incinerator emissions were detected 0.2% and 0.1% of the time. The contribution from the incinerator was no more than about 0.5% of ambient levels, and generally much lower than this. While this was entirely to be expected, it is useful to have confirmation using UK data that uses up to date techniques. The fact that the analysis technique was able to detect a slight contribution (which may have been due to the waste incinerator emissions) is reassuring. If there had been a more significant contribution, this technique would have been able to pick it up.”
Defra has also produced document entitled “Energy from waste – A guide to the debate” which aims to provide a starting point for discussions about the role energy from waste might have in managing waste.