Britain’s first major study into the impact of emissions from municipal waste incinerators will finally get underway shortly.
Announced nearly a year ago, the study will be carried out by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit, Imperial College London, and the Environmental Research Group, King’s College London, on behalf of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) – which first promised to carry out the study in 2003.
Campaigners claim that emissions from waste incinerators cause above average levels of infant deaths but the HPA and local authorities that commission them argue that there is little evidence to support this.
Studies in Japan in 2004 found a “peak decline in risk with distance from the municipal solid waste incinerators for infant deaths and infant deaths with all congenital malformations combined”.
News of the UK study, which will take two years to complete, has drawn a mixed response from campaigners, who have been frustrated by its delay.
Shlomo Dowen of the United Kingdom Without Incinerator Network said the organisation had not been consulted on the study’s terms of reference. “I hope the study surprises me but unless it does there is not much to get excited about,” he said.
A spokesperson for Kirklees Council, whose incinerator is located in a busy residential area, said the council will be “studying the findings when they become available in 2014” but would not be drawn on what should happen if the study concluded that emissions did damage the health of children.
In 2009 Kirklees Council threatened legal action against anti-incinerator campaigners for displaying Michael Ryan’s claims that its incinerator was linked to above average infant mortality levels in some wards.
It was after two of his children died that the former local government official determined to find out why. Using Office for National Statistics figures to assemble the largest statistical base currently available, Ryan has concluded that infant death rates are much higher in neighbourhoods downwind of incinerators.
Asked if the study would examine Ryan’s work, a spokesperson for the HPA would not comment but said: “The study will be using original health data obtained from the Office for National Statistics and congenital anomaly registers. Exposures will be estimated by dispersion modelling of incinerator emissions.”