Portuguese experts back waste coincineration

Report by medical professionals to back burning of waste in two cement kilns

A special Portuguese commission appointed to investigate health risks associated with the burning of toxic waste (principally waste oils and solvents) in cement kilns, is set to approve coincineration in two plants, it was revealed yesterday.

The commission's forthcoming report will give limited official sanction to a practice that is believed to have been taking place on a large scale in Portugal and which has been the subject of considerable controversy, generating opposition within parliament, from environmental NGOs and from grass-roots organisations in the vicinity of cement kilns.

The majority opinion of an independent scientific commission (CCI), appointed by the Portuguese parliament three months ago and made up of six medical experts, is that "coincineration does not pose extra health risks" and "helps reduce the risks associated with the uncontrolled burning of toxic waste". However, the report does call for further localised studies to be carried out in Outão (Setúbal Region) and Souselas (Coimbra Region), where the two plants involved are situated.

One member of the committee is dissenting from the majority opinion. Salvador Massano, professor of medicine at Coimbra University, stated that "so many doubts still exist that it is very difficult to come down in favour of coincineration". Picking up on this theme, Manuela Cunha, parliamentary representative of the Green Party, said that "when the scientific community is divided on an issue the guiding principle should be precaution". She also raised doubts about how effectively the make-up of toxic wastes to be coincinerated would be controlled.

Environmental pressure group Quercus told ENDS Daily that its principal concern was how the go-ahead for coincineration would affect the government's promises to promote the recycling of waste oils and solvents (ENDS Daily 15 November). Association president Francisco Ferreira has also been quoted as saying that the report's conclusions, apparently based on public health surveys in Sweden, France and Germany showing no evidence of increased risk, "provide no guarantee that increased health risks will not be identified in the future".

Follow Up:
Portuguese government, tel: +351 21 392 1500; the CCI report is to be published here.

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