Monday, 11 October 2010

Cardiff incinerator could cause Legionnaire's outbreak

A new study published this month shows a waste incinerator planned for Cardiff could cause an outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease.

Researchers at the University of Northampton took samples from a waste management facility over a three-month period and discovered that more than one-third of all specimens taken contained Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1, the bacterium that causes Legionnaire's Disease. Workers at the facility “will be exposed to L. pneumophila through the respiratory route shown to be important risk in the development of Legionnaire's Disease”, the researchers concluded, as the mechanical processes underway in the waste management facility spread the bacteria by air. Similar processes, scaled up, would be in place at the Cardiff incinerator.

The study, “Isolation and identification of Legionella pneumophila from material reclamation facilities” by Ali, Phillips, Phillips & Bates, is published in the October 2010 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Health Research.

The Cardiff incinerator would have a capacity of 350,000 tonnes of waste a year, including not just the composts and plant waste which are the primary source of Legionella bacteria but also animal carcasses, animal faeces, and human body parts. Under Viridor Waste Management's plans, aeration of the waste would make the bacteria grow even more. Then, the rotting five-day-old rubbish would be handled by cranes and violently shredded before being loaded onto conveyor belts, spreading the bacteria into the air. These conditions guarantee that the entire facility and surrounding area would be contaminated with Legionella.

An ongoing outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease in the South Wales valleys has killed two and infected twenty others. Many outbreaks of Legionnaire's Disease are attributed to cooling towers, which can spread bacteria as far as 6km (3.7 miles) from their origin. While the planned Cardiff incinerator does not make use of cooling towers, this new information shows that the health risks of the incinerator go far beyond what Viridor has accounted for. Furthermore, Viridor Waste Management have been repeatedly fined and cautioned for allowing waste and odours to spread beyond the boundaries of their waste management facilities and into the surrounding area. Combined with the recent Valleys outbreak, the study reinforces Leanne Wood AM's statement that the planned Cardiff incinerator is “far too big and far too close to a residential area”.

Edmund Schluessel, secretary of Cardiff Against the Incinerator, commented, “It seems like every day we find out about a new threat to public health from the Cardiff incinerator. The experience in Caerphilly, where a waste management facility is causing huge odour problems, shows that the problem goes deeper than any technique; putting waste processing close to residential areas is irresponsible, and the market can't be trusted to take care of the problems that arise. We need public ownership and democratic management of the waste sector to protect public health and ensure that the industry works for us.”

Cardiff Against the Incinerator will be demonstrating at the Senedd from 11am to 1pm on Tuesday 12 October in opposition to Viridor's plans and in solidarity with anti-incineration groups from around Wales. On 13 October, it will meet with Cardiff & Vale University Health Board to discuss the latest information on the health effects of incineration.
The original study as cited in the text is "Isolation and identification of Legionella pneumophila from material reclamation facilities", Authors: Shanom Ali; Carol Ann Phillips; Paul Scott Phillips; Margaret Bates. Published in: International Journal of Environmental Health Research, Volume 20, Issue 5 October 2010, pages 367 - 377. DOI: 10.1080/09603123.2010.484859

Information on waste handling procedures at the incinerator is contained in the Best Available Technique (BAT) statement submitted as part of Viridor's permitting application to the Environment Agency. Information on Viridor's history of fines & cautions comes from the Relevant Offences statement submitted as part of teh same application.

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