CAMPAIGNERS have expressed disappointment after it was announced that a major new health study examining potential links between incinerator emissions and child deaths has been delayed.
Preliminary results from the study, which was originally launched by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in January last year, were due to be published next month.
However, Public Health England (PHE), the body which has since replaced the HPA, is now saying that its findings will not be put into the public domain until 2015.
The postponement is a bitter blow for campaigners from the protest group GlosVAIN because it means the results of the study will not be available until after the secretary of state for communities Eric Pickles has ruled on the controversial plans for an incinerator at Javelin Park.
Last week, the planning inspectorate announced that Mr Pickles would decide Urbaser Balfour Beatty’s application for the £500 million scheme near Haresfield on or before September 17 – well before PHE’s study is due to be published.
A 23-day public inquiry into the project finished on Wednesday, January 29, and the Government-appointed inspector who oversaw proceedings will now submit his report, along with a recommendation about whether or not to grant permission for the facility, to Mr Pickles on or before June 16.
Anti-incinerator campaigners had hoped to know the outcome of PHE’s study before the secretary of state made his decision because they felt it could lend weight to fears about the health risks of large-scale waste incineration.
The study, which is being carried out by medical and scientific experts from Imperial College London and King’s College London, was set-up to probe a possible connection between incinerator fumes and health issues including infant deaths, still births and low birth weight babies.
Researchers were also tasked with investigating whether incinerator emissions were responsible for causing major heart defects, respiratory diseases and congenital birth defects, such as cleft palates and spina bifida.
However, the study has now been set-back because some of the emissions data collected from the 22 incinerators included in the study was unexpectedly held in paper format rather than in electronic files, and had to be manually entered onto computer before researchers could begin their statistical analysis.
A statement released by GlosVAIN said: “We are disappointed that the study from Public Health England into the effects of incineration on infant mortality rates has been delayed until 2015, but we understand the complexities of the study.”
Commenting on the delay, Dr Simon Bouffler, deputy director of Public Health England's centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards, said: “It was originally envisaged that preliminary results for this study would be available by March 2014 but because of the unanticipated complexity in gathering data this has been delayed.
He added: “It is important to stress that Public Health England’s position that well run and regulated modern municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health remains valid, and the study is being carried out to extend the evidence base and to provide further information to the public on this subject.”
Meanwhile, although the planning inquiry into the proposed Javelin Park incinerator is now over, GlosVAIN campaigners have revealed they will not be hanging up their banners just yet.
Diana Shirley, a member of the group, said: “It is important to keep the issue in the public eye so that Eric Pickles does not forget the strength of public opposition to this proposal.
“Also, we need to be ready to act quickly if UBB lose the appeal so that there is a credible Plan B that is acceptable to all.
“Otherwise there is a real risk that UBB will just come forward with the same incinerator but in a slightly smaller building – something that Gloucestershire County Council themselves were proposing at the inquiry.”
Ms Shirley added: “It is important to remember that there is flexibility in the contract that GCC signed with UBB – GCC’s QC Mr Elvin interpreted the contract as allowing GCC to reapply using a different technological solution, like MBT, to deal with our waste.
“Unfortunately some GCC councillors still have the delusion that incineration is the best solution for dealing with Gloucestershire’s waste.
“They are ignoring the up to-date waste handling solutions, the fact that waste is reducing nationally and the key point that was recognised by UBB’s witness Mr Roberts who said (at the inquiry) ‘everyone wants MBT’.”