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The not-that-well hidden risks of incineration: the case of the Danish Norfors Plant

Hidden risks of incineration: the case of at the Norfors plant in Denmark.

Denmark is considered one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world. But is this really the case? In addition to windmills and bicycle paths, this country is also known for its passion for burning garbage.

In fact, Denmark has a long tradition of waste incineration because the first waste incineration power plant was established in 1903. Today, according to Eurostat, the country’s per capita municipal waste generation rate is the highest in Europe (781 kg). Union burns more than 50% of its waste, but it is still striving to transition to zero waste (learn more on our blog) More information).

On the surface, incineration seems to be a feasible and quick solution. "Waste into energy" or "Plastic into fuel" is not only expected to reduce waste, but also generate energy. However, despite the different composition of waste, incineration converts one form of waste into other forms of waste, including toxic emissions such as metals, acid gases, particulate matter (dust and gravel), carbon dioxide (CO2), and highly toxic organic compounds. Such as dioxins and furans.

Dioxins and furans are the most toxic man-made substances in the world because of their irreversible effects on humans and the environment. In fact, evidence proves that dioxin not only directly affects human health and is a highly carcinogenic substance, but because it decomposes very slowly, it also bioaccumulates in animal fat tissues entering the food chain.

Dioxins can accumulate in organisms and cause human cancers and neonatal deformation, and have a profound impact on animals and nature. We can see the increase in dioxin levels in nature, including the dioxin levels in Baltic Sea salmon, although it is difficult to determine its source.

Jens Peter Mortensen, Danish Nature Conservation Association

The waste incineration company claims that incineration uses highly advanced emission control technology to provide clean energy and reduce climate impact and toxicity. But is this true? The recent ban from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may help clarify the reality.

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency issued a ban showing that the Norfos incinerator has exceeded the emission limit of toxic substances many times since 2014. Measurements show that the dioxins, furans and toxic pollutants emitted by the plant far exceed the national and regional limits. European law. As shown in the bar chart below, since 2014, Norfolk has violated the dioxin emission limit for three consecutive years in the past five years.

The Norfos plant has discharged dioxins and furans that have significantly exceeded the standard for three consecutive years in the past five years, causing serious impacts on the surrounding environment

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency issued an order to I/S Norfors on July 3, 2019.

In addition, the issue of controlling and limiting dioxin emissions is a long-term problem for incineration plants. There is evidence that waste incineration power plants are one of the largest sources of environmental pollution, because large amounts of dioxins are emitted into the air and spread to the surrounding land and sea. In 2004, the European Union introduced stricter requirements for cleaning and controlling emissions from incineration plants. This has led to a 68% reduction in dioxin emissions in Denmark. However, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there has been no corresponding decrease in dioxin pollution in the environment.

Therefore, after completely modifying the factory's production line, the EPA allowed Norfors to use the factory, provided it immediately reduces the emission level and keeps it below the allowable limit. For this reason, Norfors must conduct additional performance checks to monitor emissions and permanently strengthen cleaning practices. The order also warned that even if only one performance check showed excessive dioxins and furans, the factory production line would be shut down immediately.

Unfortunately, the Norfors case seems to be just another important evidence that waste incineration plants have difficulty controlling dioxin emissions. In fact, in November 2018, Zero Waste Europe and Toxic Observation published a case study showing that the youngest incinerator in the Netherlands, Reststoffen Energie Centrale (REC), emits hazardous pollutants far beyond EU limits.

Civil society is increasingly aware of the toxicity beyond the incineration practice. In June 2019, Dutch citizens won the lawsuit against the infamous REC factory because the State Council of the Supreme Administrative Court of the Netherlands stated that waste incineration power plants incorrectly applied regulations to measure the toxicity of their emissions (read in our blog Learn more about REC's story on).

Once again, the Norfolk case raises important questions about the safety of waste incineration to decision makers. This approach is exacerbating climate change while endangering public health and the environment. Although the European Commission has recently taken measures to minimize dioxin emissions from waste incineration, it is uncertain whether this will guarantee the reduction of dioxin pollution to the environment or solve the problem of long-term measurement of toxic emissions.

The newly elected European Parliament and the Commission, have now the opportunity to put forward legislation to move away from waste incineration and push for more sustainable alternatives to deal with our resources, while focusing on strategies to reduce waste in the first place.

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