“No Evidence” Linking Birth Defects To Incinerators, Study Finds

There is “no evidence for increased risk” linking birth defects and infant mortality to UK municipal waste incinerators, according to the findings of a recently published study.

The Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) published a paper titled “Fetal growth, stillbirth, infant mortality and other birth outcomes near UK municipal waste incinerators; retrospective population based cohort and case-control study”, which presents the results of an investigation of possible health effects associated with municipal waste incinerator (MWI) emissions.

The results of the study show “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.

This paper is part of a wider study investigating reproductive and infant health near municipal waste incinerators in Great Britain.

This national-scale investigation was of the possible health effects associated with MWI emissions of particulate matter ≤10 µm in diameter (PM10) as a proxy for MWI emissions more generally, and living near a MWI, in relation to fetal growth, stillbirth, infant mortality and other birth outcomes.

The study, which is one of the largest studies to date on health risks of municipal waste incineration, came as the result of some studies reporting associations between MWI exposures and adverse birth outcomes, according to SAHSU.

It says there are few studies of modern MWIs operating to current European Union (EU) Industrial Emissions Directive standards. As a result, it investigated all 22 British MWI operating 2003–10.

It examined birth weight, multiple births, sex ratio, prematurity and mortality outcomes and found “no associations between MWI proximity or emissions and infant health outcomes”.

For the full study, click here.


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  1. I’ll repeat what I said in MRW: Firstly, this is a study on PM10 whereas studies suggest that health issues from particulates are predominantly caused by PM2.5 and below, particularly the micro fines below PM1.
    Secondly, it is surely stretching a point to suggest a study of a particular single issue can be applied to all other aspects of incinerator effects on health.
    As an example “Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population” by Di et al published in 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine shows a clear linear relationship between PM2.5 and increased mortality (figure 3) even below the WHO limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, in a sample size of 60 million medicare recipiants.
    And see also https://zerowasteeurope.us3.list-manage.com/trac/click?u=8cbf453c18e9074b9004eb8a0&id=a1cb50b81e&e=6f98eacd61
    which shows you shouldn’t rely on one parameter, PM10, to assume that there are no health consequences for all the other potential pollutants.
    This SAHSU study should be evaluated in the context of other work in this area. But It is surely beyond dispute that incinerators are a contributor to the overall air pollution burden.

    Chris Harmer, a director of Zero Waste England

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