French waste incinerators "present low risk"

Health professionals urge rapid upgrading of old incinerators, adoption of new EU standards

A survey of the health implications of municipal waste incineration in France has concluded that overall risks are "reassuringly" low, but that some older, and generally smaller, units are still emitting "worryingly" high levels of pollution. Published last week by four professional associations, the study concludes that older incinerators should be upgraded as rapidly as possible or closed. All incinerators should be upgraded "speedily" to meet new stricter EU emissions standards due to enter into force next year, the authors say.

Over 40% of municipal waste is incinerated in France, a relatively high proportion by EU standards. The proportion is forecast to increase further due to a legal deadline of 2002 after which only "ultimate" waste will be allowed to be landfilled (ENDS Daily 25 March 1997). French departmental authorities making new waste management plans have been criticised for favouring large incineration projects, both by residents close to proposed plans and environment minister Dominique Voynet (ENDS Daily 16 January 1998).

The French Society for Public Health, the Network Health-Wastes, the Association for the Prevention of Air Pollution and the Association of Hygienists and Municipal Technicians collaborated in preparing the new report in response to this political debate over waste incineration and public fears over its contribution to air pollution.

Older incinerators can be unacceptably dirty, they find, but conclude that technical improvements in pollution controls and stricter legal emissions limits mean that the situation in France now appears "not particularly worrying". In particular, the study notes that between 1985 and 1999 dust levels fell by between a factor of 15 and 100, hydrogen chloride emissions by a factor of more than 100, sulphur dioxide by a factor of 10 and dioxins by a factor of about 100.

Some 80% of French municipal waste incineration capacity now conforms with limits set by a 1991 national law, the study finds. Most incinerators that are not in compliance are smaller units processing under six tonnes per hour, it says, stressing that these are legally obliged to meet stricter limits by 1 December 2000 or close. The report also notes that new, tighter, EU incineration emissions norms are close to being finalised, affecting new plant from January and existing units from the end of 2004.

Follow Up:
French Society for Public Health, tel: +33 3 83 44 87 47. References: "Incineration of Wastes and Public Health".

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