Municipal Waste Incinerators study publishes findings.

The use of incineration for waste disposal in the UK is increasing due to EU restrictions on the use of landfill. A number of new Municipal Waste Incinerators (MWIs) have been built and between 2003 and 2010 there were 22 operating in England, Scotland and Wales. The incineration process and emissions of modern MWIs are regulated by the Waste Incineration (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 which sets operational conditions, technical requirements, and emission limit values. However there is public concern over any possible health risks associated with modern incineration and this study has been commissioned to extend the evidence base and provide more information to the public on this subject.  

This study investigating potential associations between reproductive and infant health and emissions from municipal waste incinerators (MWIs) in England, Scotland and Wales was announced in January 2012 by the Health Protection Agency, whose functions have since been transferred to Public Health England.

Associations between modelled ground-level particulate matter ≤10µm in diameter (PM10) from MWI emissions (as a proxy for MWI emissions) within 10km of each MWI, and selected birth and infant mortality outcomes were examined for all 22 MWIs operating in Great Britain 2003-10. We also investigated associations with proximity of residence to a MWI. Outcomes used were term birth weight, small for gestational age (SGA) at term, stillbirth, neonatal, post-neonatal and infant mortality, multiple births, sex ratio and preterm delivery sourced from national registration data from the Office for National Statistics.  Analyses were adjusted for relevant confounders including year of birth, sex, season of birth, maternal age, deprivation, ethnicity and area characteristics and random effect terms were included in the models to allow for differences in baseline rates between areas and in incinerator feedstock.

Analyses included 1,025,064 births and 18,694 infant deaths. There was no excess risk in relation to any of the outcomes investigated during pregnancy or early life of either mean modelled MWI PM10 or proximity to an MWI.

In conclussion the study  found no evidence that exposure to PM10 from, or living near to, an MWI operating to current EU standards was associated with harm for any of the outcomes investigated. Results should be generalizable to other MWIs operating to similar standards.

  This is the first of a series of epidemiological papers from this study. Links to five previously published papers assessing exposures from incinerators and reviewing the literature on health effects of incinerators can be found at https://www.sahsu.org/content/incinerators-study . The webpage also provides more details about the study.