Written evidence submitted by
the United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN)(SH0096)

The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) is a network of anti-incineration campaigners and campaign groups founded in 2007 that acts as an environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO).

  1. As a network, UKWIN maintains close contact with a wide range of communities across the UK, and many of these communities have raised concerns with us about the health impacts of waste incineration.
  2. In order to represent our members and for the benefit of the public, UKWIN has therefore undertaken research into the emissions of pollutants from waste incinerators as well as the impacts of those emissions.
  3. For similar reasons, UKWIN has also established channels of communication with the Environment Agency, the UKHSA, and other relevant bodies, and this has informed our understanding of how these matters are regulated.
  4. Some of the evidence and expertise that UKWIN holds has a direct bearing on the topic of soil health, and as such we are grateful for this opportunity to provide evidence on this topic to respond to EFRACOM's call for evidence.

Question 5. What does UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination?

  1. In 2007, the UK Soil and Herbage Pollutant Survey UKSHS Report No. 10 commissioned by the EA found “puzzling” elevated levels of dioxins near UK incinerators and chemical plants, but the EA did not repeat the survey or carry out further investigation[1].  Contamination has also been found near European municipal waste incinerators that operate under similar regulation to that in the UK[2],[3],[4],[5],[6].  Further investigation of the possibility of contamination near large industrial plants in the UK is long overdue.

  1. The measurement of dioxin emissions needs to be improved.  For example, the EA permits plants that emit dioxins to air to measure dioxin emissions only occasionally (e.g. every six months) even though the technology exists for continuous measurement of dioxin emissions[7],[8],[9],[10].  There is therefore the possibility that significant emissions in excess of limits may go undetected.
  2. An illustration of the problems with occasional periodic emissions can be found with respect to the Javelin Park Energy Recovery Facility, a Municipal Waste Incinerator that is permitted to treat up to 190,000 tonnes of waste per year.
  3. The permit required that heavy metals were tested four times a year in the first year of operation, but then only two times a year after that.[11]
  4. On the 21st of July 2022 the operator notified the Environment Agency that the heavy metals concentration was measured as 1.256 mg/m3, which is well above the emission limit value (0.5 mg/m3), but that when the plant was re-tested it was below the limit. The notice stated that the operator was unsure as to the reason for the anomaly, but for the purposes of submission that is not particularly relevant.[12]
  5. If the reason for the initial anomaly was incorrect calibration of the equipment, then it raises questions about the robustness of the calibration regime, and concerns that if it had been incorrectly calibrated to be insufficiently sensitive rather than overly sensitive then this would not have required a notification, leading to concerns that calibration errors mean that even if there are exceedances then during bi-annual tests that these might not be picked up due to poor calibration that does not raise red flag and so does not get investigated.
  6. Alternatively, if there had been a breach due to the feedstock or operation of the plant that was correctly detected, then it raises concerns about how the possibility that this was a regular occurrence, and it was only by luck that it was detected during the bi-annual check but not in the subsequent re-test.
  7. Either way, it highlights the problems that can arise when harmful pollutants are only tested every 6-months or so and only re-tested in the event that a potential exceedance is found. This inevitably biases results downwards, and means that harmful emissions might well be missed.

  1. The risk assessments made of dioxin emissions during the permitting process also deserve to be significantly strengthened.  When determining permit applications for large industrial plants, the Environment Agency’s assessment of the risks of soil contamination arising from dioxin emissions to air is typically based on models of human intake using the Human Health Risk Assessment Protocol (HHRAP).  Such models have numerous parameters including parameters that are regarded as “typical” rather than precautionary.  The EA even accepts a default value for the expected lifetime of the plant (30 years) when the plant’s anticipated lifetime may be longer.  In reality, human exposure to dioxins will continue long after a plant emitting dioxins is decommissioned because dioxins are persistent in nature so will contaminate the surrounding soils.  The EA accepts the predictions without requiring an assessment of the cumulative confidence interval arising from all uncertainties (including the uncertainties inherent in the modelling approach itself).
  2. The results of the assessment are then compared with a Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) level determined by the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT).  There is, however, considerable uncertainty regarding tolerable intakes.  After considerable research, the European Food Safety Authority set a tolerable intake that is just one seventh of the COT TDI[13].  The COT TDI level is not sufficiently precautionary.  If the level considered to be “tolerable” is later revised down, removing any dioxin contamination of soils is likely to be impossible at any reasonable cost.
  3. The EA applies a screening threshold for assessments that is 10% of the TDI even if background levels of dioxins may be high and even though no level of dioxins can be considered to be safe.  This contrasts with the much smaller screening threshold of 1% used for the comparison of many air pollutants with Environmental Assessment Levels[14].
    The assessment based on the modelling predictions may also base its conclusion on “receptor” locations rather than the point of maximum impact.  This is also not sufficiently precautionary.  Human dioxin exposure is dominated by dioxins in foods which accumulate in the food chain.  Humans may still be exposed to dioxins via grass cut in non-agriculture areas and fed to animals.  Furthermore, the consideration of “receptor” locations ignores agricultural land that may have much greater dioxin exposure than the "receptor" location.
  4. The result of all the above is that the assessment of dioxin contamination of soils and the risks to human health is not sufficiently robust.  An example that shows all the above assessment issues is the EA’s “minded to” decision for the Carlisle municipal waste incinerator (reference EPR/SP3609BX/A001).  The detected contamination and puzzling elevated levels mentioned earlier show the importance and need for risk assessments to be robust.
  5. Finally, the EA permits the operation of industrial plants without requiring the pollution abatement techniques that minimise dioxin contamination of soils.  For example, for large plants, such as Municipal Waste Incinerators, the EA permits the use of Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction (SNCR) even though Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) reduces dioxin emissions.  The EA's consideration of  “Best Available Technique” (BAT) appears to be largely determined by the technique that minimises costs for the operator rather than what is best for minimising air pollution and soil contamination.  In our view, the EA's assessment of BAT needs to change to be genuinely what is best for the environment.


February 2023

[1] https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/uk_soil_and_herbage_pollutant_su?nocache=incoming-1989594#incoming-1989594

[2] https://www.toxicowatch.org/single-post/biomonitoring-ivry-paris-xiii-2021

[3] https://www.toxicowatch.org/single-post/biomonitoring-madrid-spain-2021

[4] https://www.toxicowatch.org/single-post/biomonitoring-research-kaunas-lithuania-2021

[5] https://www.toxicowatch.org/single-post/biomonitoring-in-pilsen-czech-rep-2021

[6] https://zerowasteeurope.eu/library/hidden-emissions-a-story-from-the-netherlands/

[7] https://www.envirotech-online.com/article/air-monitoring/6/westech-engineering-inc/using-continuous-dioxin-measurement-within-the-framework-of-the-european-legislation-chris-green/891

[8] https://www.envirotech-online.com/white-paper/air-monitoring/6/cem/using-continuous-dioxin-measurement-in-the-frame-of-the-europeannbsplegislation/121

[9] https://www.gasmet.com/blog/gasmet-gt90-dioxin-is-an-effective-solution-for-dioxin-sampling/

[10] https://www.ejnet.org/toxics/cems/dioxin.html

[11] https://ukwin.org.uk/library/163-Permit-2018.pdf Table S3.1 Point source emissions to air – emission limits and monitoring requirements, internal page 23 (electronic page 28)

[12] https://ukwin.org.uk/library/163-Schedule5Notice-2022.pdf

[13] https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/dioxins-and-related-pcbs-tolerable-intake-level-updated

[14] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/air-emissions-risk-assessment-for-your-environmental-permit