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Unpunished breaches

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Waste Recycling Group (WRG), owners of Nottingham’s Eastcroft incinerator have received a series of warnings from the Environment Agency (EA). The repeated warnings culminated in The EA writing to the Company Secretary of WRG alleging that the owners have committed pollution offences. The EA claim an offence has been committed because WRG failed to file valid monitoring data for toxic heavy metals (including cadmium, thallium, mercury), particulates, PCBs.

This was in addition to 6 pollution breaches in the 6 months between September 2007 and February 2008, including:

  • ‘abnormal emissions’ caused by an explosion of a gas canister, causing a breach of carbon monoxide limits;
  • a breach of hydrogen fluoride limits – presumably also caused by suspicious waste being accepted;
  • a boiler tube failure, causing breach of carbon monoxide limits;
  • excess carbon in the bottom ash, indicating inadequate combustion; and
  • a ‘filter bypass’ operation in which fly ash has been sprayed over the surrounding area for 5 minutes

and numerous other historic breaches listed on the Nottingham Against Incineration and Landfill (NAIL) website at:

The current regulatory process does not provide rigorous monitoring of dioxins and metals and the regulatory process does not provide rigorous enforcement.

The current process is unable to detect all of the breaches in emissions of pollutants that are spot monitored. When a breach is detected the regulator is too lenient: the incinerator operator might be more motivated to comply with emission limits if breaches always resulted in a fine and significant breaches resulted in larger fines. The Environment Agency itself has complained that the levels of fines awarded are too small.

According to Dr. Adam Bostock: “This is an important point in the debate about whether incinerators are safe or not. The technology exists to substantially reduce emissions, but continuously low emissions can only be achieved if the technology is reliable, well maintained, and operated effectively by well trained staff at all times. It also requires a continuous waste stream that has a suitable calorific value, and low levels of problem substances that promote pollutant emissions…A critical failure of the combustion control or emissions abatement technology could lead to unusually high emission rates. Similarly, incorrect operation of the plant or an accident could result in unusually high emission rates. Further, it is accepted that during the commissioning of a new incinerator plant that emissions will be unusually high over this period. Rigorous monitoring and enforcement is indeed required to ensure that breaches of emission limits are prevented. Enforcement may not be working as rigorously as it needs to be to guarantee protection of health and the environment” [].