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Doctors call on PM to ‘save lives’ and halt plan for £1.2bn incinerator to burn north London’s waste

PUBLISHED: 14:45 28 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:05 28 September 2020

An artist's impression of what the new energy recovery facility could look like. Picture: Grimshaw Architects

An artist's impression of what the new energy recovery facility could look like. Picture: Grimshaw Architects

2011 Grimshaw Architects

More than 70 NHS doctors have called on the Prime Minister to pull the plug on plans to build a new incinerator to burn all of north London’s waste, claiming he could save more lives than they all would in their entire careers if he prevents the toxic emissions it would belch out.

Carina Milstone standing in front of the existing incinerator in Edmonton.Carina Milstone standing in front of the existing incinerator in Edmonton.

The medics - many from north London, but also from all over the country - have asked Boris Johnson to review and revoke the planning consent the North London Waste Authority (NLWA) obtained from the government in 2017 to rebuild the Edmonton incinerator.

They also want him to revoke a government loan obtained at a local infrastructure rate for the £1.2 billion project, because “air pollution and climate change are preventable causes of disease and death”.

In an open letter, they said: “As doctors we work daily to save lives. By securing a stop to the NLWA and the North London’s Councils’ reckless plans, you, Prime Minister, will save more lives than we will in our entire careers.

“While this would be an exceptional intervention, we are sure you will agree that the climate and air pollution emergencies and public health crises require it,” they added.

The existing plant - which dates back to 1969 - is coming to the end of its operational life, and the NLWA says it needs to be replaced to avoid putting rubbish into landfill - which it claims would produce more carbon dioxide than incineration.

The doctors cite studies which have proven the damaging effects of air pollution, which causes more than 40,000 deaths per year in the UK. 
Toxic air has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia according to a report from the Royal College of Physicians, which estimates health problems resulting from air pollution cost the UK more than £20 billion every year.

New research funded by the UK Medical Research Council, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, has found evidence that increased air pollution also allows pathogens such as coronavirus to spread further,

But chair of the NLWA, Cllr Clyde Loakes, claims the incinerator will be “one of the safest, cleanest and highest performing in the world”.

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He said: “Our facility will operate well within the stringent limits set by the Environment Agency and, like the existing plant, regular monitoring will be provided. 
“The project was consented following rigorous independent scrutiny by the Planning Inspectorate of all relevant air quality and environmental issues.”

READ MORE: North London incinerator: Mother’s legal challenge to plant that will burn waste from Hackney, Islington, Camden and Haringey
The medics state that the ultra-fine particulate matter (PM 1 and PM 0.1) emitted by the incinerator cannot be filtered, and according to the World Health Organization, there is no safe threshold below which no damage to health is observed.

Parliament’s Particulate Matter Research Group estimated last year that the current incinerator emits 1.8 billion slightly larger particles of PM 2.5 per second.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has stated that no safe level for PM 2.5 exposure has been identified.

“Dramatic improvements in health have been shown to occur when air pollution is reduced, and the decommissioning of the current incinerator presents a significant opportunity to improve the air quality of one of the poorest parts of London,” said the medics.

“We are now respectfully asking you to truly support our NHS by scrapping the Edmonton incinerator rebuild and expansion, and so reducing rates of preventable death and disease both now, and far into the future.”

However Cllr Loakes claims the new incinerator will include “proven technology” for capturing particulates, including ultrafine particles.

“The effectiveness of this technology is backed up by multiple scientific studies, including by the Government’s own independent Air Quality Expert Group,” he said.

“Work to build the project started last year, and we’re making rapid progress to deliver this vital asset for north London’s residents.”

Campaigners applied to the High Court for a judicial review last year, on the basis that the civil servant who is said to have taken the decision to grant planning consent on behalf of Energy Secretary Greg Clark in 2017, had no idea the Climate Change Act was due to be amended by her very own department the following day.

They argued it was unlawful a civil servant had made the decision, but Justice Lang said “public business couldn’t be carried on if that weren’t the case”.


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