Poolbeg incinerator: scrutiny required

Facility must be operated strictly in accordance with its licence

 

The Poolbeg municipal incinerator that almost nobody wanted – certainly not elected members of Dublin City Council, who voted against it repeatedly – was fired up this weekend, nearly two decades after it was first mooted as a key element in the capital’s waste management infrastructure. “Black bin” waste from Dublin and elsewhere will be burned at nearly 1,100 degrees Celsius, generating heat for conversion into electricity – but without the long-promised district heating scheme in place to distribute this “energy from waste” directly to people’s homes. So the wider benefits of incineration as an energy recovery system may not materialise for years.

There are two principal concerns about how the incinerator will operate. Firstly, the sheer scale of the shiny new plant, with a prodigious capacity to burn 600,000 tonnes of waste per annum, could undermine the impressive growth in recycling over the past 20 years; as the Green Party has warned, it will be vying for the same materials. And secondly, the public will want to be reassured about emissions from the plant, particularly dioxins and furans, which are carcinogenic. And in this regard, the record of the operating company Covanta in running municipal incinerators in the US and Canada is patchy at best.

Covanta has sought to reassure Dubliners that the design of its Poolbeg incinerator is more advanced than those in North America, that an experienced management team has been recruited and that data on emissions will be updated every half-an-hour on its website. But it needs to go further by following the example of Vienna’s principal incinerator, which has a billboard-sized display in real time of emissions located at a nearby roundabout. The Environmental Protection Agency has said it will be inspecting Poolbeg to ensure that Covanta stays within the limits set for emissions of dioxins, furans and other pollutants.

Certainly, the new incinerator will require intensive monitoring, not least to reassure the public that it will be operated strictly in accordance with the terms of its licence. Any deviations or laxity in this regard would be intolerable.

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