Committee reassures on cement works

No evidence has been found of a link between emissions from Castle Cement's works in Ribblesdale and adverse health effects in the local population, according to the Government's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP).

The Ribblesdale works has been the focus of controversy since 1992 when it pioneered the use of "secondary liquid fuel" (SLF), made from solvents and other chemical wastes, as a substitute for fossil fuels. Campaigners have complained about regular grounding of the works' plume and fear that it may be affecting the health of local people. Both HM Inspectorate of Pollution and the Environment Agency have been criticised by the House of Commons Environment Committee for their oversight of SLF burning at Ribblesdale and other cement works (ENDS Reports 245, pp 27-29 , and 266, pp 30-32 ).

COMEAP's assessment was released in a parliamentary answer by junior Health Minister Alan Milburn in November. 1

Drawing on data from an intensive ambient air monitoring exercise conducted by the Agency around Castle's works, the Committee says it is "satisfied that there does not appear to be a link" between "complaints or odour threshold exceedances and the burning of SLF." Pollutant concentrations in the air samples "did not indicate any concerns for health."

After examining data on hospital admission rates for asthma and respiratory illnesses, mortality data and GPs' prescribing data, the Committee also found no evidence of any link between public health and local industrial emissions.

Improvements in local air quality are expected following the installation of a scrubber on one of the works' kilns this year and the decommissioning of two other kilns. According to a report submitted to the Agency in November by Castle Cement, the scrubber has halved the kiln's dust and ammonia emissions and cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 90%.

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