Air quality warning over burning of waste wood

Government proposals to restrict waste wood from landfill and burn more have no regard for health risks, say air quality campaigners

Government proposals to restrict waste wood from landfill have no regard for the health risks of more being burnt, according to clean air campaigners.

On July 31, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) issued a call for evidence regarding the potential introduction of waste wood landfill restrictions in England.

The Breathe Clean Air Group is concerned about a potential rise in the amount of waste wood being burnt in England

The consultation sought views on the merits of adopting a restriction on waste wood, a potential timescale for introduction and what the barriers to the approach might be.

According to Defra, the aim of a ban would be to divert material which is currently sent to landfill, where it generates greenhouse gas emissions, up the waste hierarchy  to ‘deliver clear environmental benefits’. It explains that the growing biomass market would would be the main outelt for the extra material, as much of what is sent to landfill is low quality. Around 4.3 million tonnes of waste wood arises in the UK each year but only half of this is currently recycled, with between 800,000 and 1.2 million tonnes still sent to landfill.


However, the Breathe Clean Air Group yesterday (September 4) responded to the consultation, claiming that it only looks at the economic benefits of introducing restrictions and has “no regard for the health risks associated with storing and burning waste wood.”

The Group was set up in Greater Manchester in 2010 to oppose the construction and operation of the nearby Barton Renewable Energy Plant, which is being proposed by Peel Energy to burn waste wood. A Public Inquiry will be held in November, where a recommendation will be sent to Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, for a final decision.

The Group claims that burning wood produces fine particulate matter (PM1s) and burning waste wood produces heavy metals such as arsenic and lead, volatile organic compounds and dioxins, which has implications for respiratory illness, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

Pete Kilvert, chairman of the Breathe Clean Air Group, said: “It would appear that Defra is only focussed on the economic benefit of recycling wood and has paid scant regard to health impacts. I am greatly concerned that this consultation document will be seen as a “Biomass Burners’ Charter”, and there will be an acceleration to burning this valuable resource and causing massive health impacts.

“The consultation paper only looks at economic benefits and ignores health and environmental factors. Burning wood produces fifty percent more carbon dioxide that burning coal. Storing waste wood will lead to clouds of wood dust particles that will cause respiratory disease and possibly cancer. Defra has to look at the overall effects of its wood waste strategy”.


In a footnote in the call for evidence document, Defra acknowledges that there are “air quality impacts from any waste treatment” but says these are “relatively small in comparison to the greenhouse gas emission impacts impacts”.

It adds that other air pollutant impacts other than greenhouse gas emissions, although positive, are not specified in the call for evidence for this reason.

However, it does stress that treated waste wood, around which the greatest health concerns focus, must be sent to facilities which are compliant with the Waste Incineration Directive, which places strict controls on emissions from waste burning plants to protect the environment and human health.

The consultation will run until September 28.

Related Links

Defra wood consultation


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