Herts. WithOut Waste (HertsWOW)

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SAHSU Fetal growth ... near UK municipal waste incinerators study

Posted by hertswow on December 10, 2018 at 6:45 AM

We welcome publication by the UK Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) of its latest report of one of the largest studies to date on health risks of municipal waste incineration: (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412018316398#s0085" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">link)

'Fetal growth, stillbirth, infant mortality and other birth outcomes near UK municipal waste incinerators; retrospective population based cohort and case-control study'

in: Environment International, in press, corrected proof.

Received 26 July 2018, Revised 8 October 2018, Accepted 31 October 2018, Available online 22 November 2018.

"5. Conclusions

This large national study found no evidence for increased risk of a range of birth outcomes, including birth weight, preterm delivery and infant mortality, in relation to either MWI emissions or living near an MWI operating to the current EU waste incinerator regulations in Great Britain. The study should be generalisable to other MWIs operating to similar regulations and with similar waste streams."

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Some cautionary notes

The article is carefully worded to reflect the study's remit, approach, methods and findings. However the latter are liable to be misinterpreted, especially in reportage and during consideration of planning policies and applications for development:

  1. The study did not prove that there there is no "increased risk of a range of birth outcomes ... in relation to either MWI emissions or living near an MWI"; it only found no evidence of such risk.
  2. The study sought to address local environmental factors such as nearby industries and road density, yet as the summary states "Despite these efforts, we cannot exclude the possibility of residual confounding that may have affected our estimates." In particular there may be valid concerns about the modelling of weather effects in relation to local landform and neighbouring buildings.
  3. The statement that "The study should be generalisable ...." does not mean that its findings may be applied directly to all proposals for new incinerators or extensions etc. to existng ones. Rather, the degree of similarity of a proposal to incinerators studied during 2003-2010 is a matter for expert assessment. especially with regard to factors that may not have been encountered in the research sample or may have arisen since that time.
  4. The study's scope did not include widely dispersed risks of harm arising from MWIs generally e.g health effects arising from atmospheric emissions, regional traffic and anxiety about such matters.  
  5. The incinerators included in this study were selected from all of those in Great Britain. A few were excluded for reasons stated in the report (paragraph 2.1: lack of data or facilities not being solely MWIs).
  6. The conduct of the research programme benefitted from the international experience of SAHSU and the wider network in large-scale health studies worldwide. Quite different situations may apply in other parts of the world, e.g. in respect of incinerator technologies, feedstocks, emission standards etc.

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