One of the key objections to the Davyhulme incinerator that the Breathe Clean Air Group hold, is the release of harmful pollutants into the air. We have been told by the operators, time and time again, that these are safe. (We encourage you to research them and make you own minds up.) We have been told that the plant must operate within the emissions laws. However, we have also heard evidence, from an individual working in the emissions testing industry, that there are loopholes in these laws and compliance actually depends on the honesty of the operators.
We have recently been in touch with another individual who understands how the industry actually works. Patrick Sudlow used to work at an incinerator in Bolton. In March 2008, after witnessing many instances of lack of care and deliberate manipulation of the technology, Patrick revealed his shocking experiences. We were keen to hear more from him, as his perspective was based on real-life experiences, not idealistic hopes and promises about how an incinerator would be operated. After joining us on the Protest March and writing objection letters to both the council and Kate Green MP, we asked Patrick to tell us about his time working at an incinerator!
I was employed by GMWaste as a Process Controller (Shift Engineer) at the Bolton Thermal Recovery Facility (waste incinerator). I was qualified to control, operate and maintain a high-pressure steam plant. My qualifications were gained during service with the Royal Navy as a Marine Engineer Artificer (Technician). At that time, I naively thought this would be a good way to deal with waste that could not be recycled.
When I first started, I was informed by the Business Manager to not worry too much about the EA. The Government (the last one) were keen to build as many incinerators as they could, to reduce waste going to landfill. At first I thought this was just hot air, but time proved this appeared to be the case.
Initially, the staff received no real training. It now turns out that there are no longer any requirements for people to have qualifications in order to operate high pressure plant! From the start, the management contrived to conceal a number of incidents from the EA, and even encouraged bad practices amongst the staff. I got into hot water early on for not changing a log book entry so that an incident did not appear to be too serious. I also kept having heated arguments with them over their unwritten instructions to knock off the flue gas treatment before they stopped burning, because they continued to have exceedances. By knocking off the flue gas treatment, the monitoring system believed that the plant was down (waste had been completely burnt off). What really surprised me was that the EA inspector sometimes walked past sparks and fumes escaping from the incinerator, and did not think anything of it. An incinerator is required to be sealed to prevent toxic fumes damaging human health and the environment.
When Viridor took over GMWaste, I informed them of my concerns, but they seemed happier to believe the Business Manager. I finally resigned and gave my notice in accordance with my contract. However, I was given an hour to clear out my lockers and leave site. In the process, I mislaid some of the evidence I intended to pass on to the EA. I finally went to the EA when I thought I had sufficient evidence for them to act on. The EA just passed this information over to the Business Manager who, with the Assistant Manager (who had left GMWaste for Sarco-Spirax sometime before), carried out a clearance of some of the information. I did point out to the EA that if nothing undue was happening, the Assistant Manager shouldn’t have felt compelled to go back.
During my interview with the Senior Manager at the EA’s North Western HQ, I pointed out several things to him that had occurred. The fact that log books had been altered; that the emissions showed that waste must be burning when the flue gas treatment was shut-down, making black smoke (soot is a particulate known to contribute to poor health) without the filters on-line; discharge to sewer of contaminated water; presence of unburned waste; and waste being sent off site without the correct paper work. I did emphasise that a software expert was required to interrogate the computers. This is because system events and alarms are stored and are also backed-up and these would verify my allegations. Unfortunately the EA’s response left me feeling that they were not fit for purpose. They determined that they could not contact certain people to confirm my story about a number of incidents. At no time did they interrogate the log-books, computers or other data, and even sent the same inspector I had complained about to investigate my allegations.
I joined you on Saturday’s march (8th Jan 2011), where I met a number of you. I did write to Trafford’s Planning Office, and suggested that they pay a visit to Bolton TRF before making any decisions. I also wrote to Kate Green, your MP, suggesting that the Government carry out medical checks (especially blood test for toxins and heavy metals) on those currently or previously employed at incinerators. She replied saying that she was unable to act on my letter as I was not a member of her constituency. I wish you luck in getting this stopped, as there are better ways to deal with waste and to produce heat and power.
For more information about this, please see the ENDS report (ENDS Report 411, April 2009, pp 21-22) or click here (http://ukwin.org.uk/2009/05/05/bolton-incinerator-should-close-whistleblower/). We would like to offer a huge thank you to Patrick for taking the time to share his story.
We already have evidence that our local air quality is poor and indeed, over the legal limits for many pollutants. When operating within the legal limits, BREP would increase these levels. Although the current incinerator proposers would hopefully not run a plant like this, Patrick’s story does demonstrate how much trust we would be placing into their hands. Is this a risk we should take?