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Gayton and Grimston Ward Independent Borough Councillor Michael de Whalley comments on the earthquake tragedy and cleaning up the UK's rivers and incinerator

The essentials for life are air, water, food, shelter and fire and the terrible earthquake tragedy in the Middle East is an urgent reminder of these essentials.

The UK and its individual citizens should do whatever they can to support the relief efforts and remember that need continues long after the immediate horror has faded from our news screens.

Air and water are the most critical factors to human survival, absence of one leading to death in minutes the other in a few days.

Wisbech incinerator (Medworth Energy from Waste Combined Heat and Power Facility). Visual image of what it could look like. Image taken from documents submitted by the developer
Wisbech incinerator (Medworth Energy from Waste Combined Heat and Power Facility). Visual image of what it could look like. Image taken from documents submitted by the developer

While having sufficient to breathe and drink is a given in West Norfolk we would be mistaken to take the quality of the air and water around us for granted.

Recently the Government announced an initiative to clean up our rivers, improve our air quality and provide everyone with green open spaces close to where they live. What is not to like about that?

The problem is that that same government which had told the water companies to stop dumping raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters by 2027 has now let them off the hook until 2063.

Michael de Whalley
Michael de Whalley

Many of these companies are in overseas ownership as a consequence of the privatisation of the industry in 1989.

How many other countries would allow their water, that cool clear essential for life to be managed by people whose only loyalty may be to their shareholders or government?

Few, if any, rivers in England are free from pollution, safe to swim in and none are fit to drink without prior treatment and purification. Our coastal waters are in a similar sorry state.

Why should overseas companies continue to borrow money and pay big dividends to shareholders, while, with the agreement of Government, relax investment in water quality for decades to come and then announce increased prices to consumers!

Luckily no one has yet worked out how to own the air and charge for its consumption!

That is not to say that there aren’t those who are capable of interfering with the quality of the air we all breath in. There are many and varied sources of air pollution, some are natural such as forest fires or dust storms but most are of human origin.

I have written in this column about the dangers of incinerators such as the one proposed for Wisbech, which is directly upwind of West Norfolk. The examination of the case for this project by the National Planning Inspectorate starts at the end of the month.

The case for the risks to human health of the microscopic particles produced by incineration is becoming increasingly clear to the medical and scientific communities.

The developers state that the filters they will use will catch well over 90% of the particles by weight. That is the problem, they will catch the big heavy and less dangerous particles, but it is the number of particles not the weight that will damage your health.

These microscopic particles weigh almost nothing and are so small that most can pass through the filters. They will make up the small percentage by weight that escape but will do so in large numbers. Even miles downwind your lungs will capture them, they will pass into your blood and enter your tissues with potentially dire consequences.

Many incinerator schemes are fully or partly owned overseas and in some cases their home countries no longer encourage waste incineration. Are there similarities with the water industry here?

Yet the Deputy Secretary of State for Business and Energy recently stated that she saw no reason for a moratorium on new incinerators despite the concerns raised about them by parliamentarians.

Remember it is her Ministry, now known as ‘Energy Security and Net Zero’, which will decide upon the Wisbech incinerator.

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