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17 Oct 2002 : Column 925W—continued


Mr. David: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will publish the Government's response to the European Commission's mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy. [72350]

Alun Michael: Discussions on the mid-term review of the CAP are continuing.

Flooding (Huntingdon)

Mr. Djanogly: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what provision there is to provide support to (a) home owners, (b) farmers and (c) businesses whose properties have been, or may in the future be, subject to flooding in the Huntingdon constituency. [74223]

Mr. Morley: Flooding is a natural phenomenon and whilst it is not possible to eliminate the risk totally, the flood and coastal defence operating authorities have permissive powers to reduce that risk. It has been the policy of successive Governments not to pay compensation to those affected by flooding as it is generally an insurable risk. However, we may be able to assist in reducing Government requirements on those affected, for example by relaxing the eligibility rules for agricultural support schemes or by considering estimation of VAT liabilities where floods have damaged paperwork. Businesses in need of this type of

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help should contact the relevant department if the need arises. Assistance to householders affected by flooding is provided by local authorities in the immediate aftermath of flooding, and in the case of serious hardship help may be available from the Social Fund.

Waste Disposal

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under what guidelines the Environment Agency monitors dioxin emissions from Waste Disposal incinerators; to whom the Environment Agency is accountable in this respect; and if she will make a statement. [73481]

Mr. Meacher: As set out in the Waste Incineration Directive (WID), the Environment Agency requires operators to measure emissions from municipal waste incinerators at least every 3 months during the first 12 months of a new installation. In subsequent years operators must take at least two measurements per year.

Dioxins in England and Wales can be measured using two validated methods; a European standard BS EN 1948 and the USEPA Method 23. Historically, USEPA method 23 has been used and is considered an acceptable standard for dioxin emission limit values of 1ng/m3 and above. However, WID will impose a limit of 0.1ng/m3 from 28 December 2005 and, as the Agency has already started moving towards this new limit, European Standard EN 1948 is being used in the majority of cases for regulatory compliance monitoring of municipal waste incinerators. EN 1948 has been validated on a large number of European incinerators, the measurement uncertainty has been determined and the appropriate quality assurance/quality control measures have been introduced. Both methods require samples to be taken over a period of six to eight hours. Samples are then removed for laboratory analysis using sophisticated and time consuming techniques.

The analysis of dioxin levels is a difficult and expensive process which only a few laboratories in the UK are able to carry out. The laboratories are independent, with a broad client base including Government agencies as well as various sectors of industry. The laboratories are subject to quality assurance schemes (such as UKAS) and are fully open to individual and Government scrutiny.

The Agency is currently researching other ways of sampling incinerator emissions of dioxins. A research programme is in place investigating the performance of continuous dioxin sampling systems that have recently been employed in some European countries.

The Agency is accountable for its activities in England to the Secretary of State. Regulation of the incineration industry by the Agency and its predecessors has been very effective. Over the past eleven years there has been a very significant decrease in the discharge of dioxins from municipal waste incinerators. In 1990 they released 605.26g ITEQ, but by 1999 this figure had fallen to 1.05g ITEQ. In 2001 the sector released 0.81g ITEQ.

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many waste disposal incinerators she expects to be required in the United Kingdom for the implementation of the Government's Waste Disposal Strategy 2000. [73487]

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Mr. Meacher: The Government has no plans that local authorities should provide any particular number of incinerators.

They are required to take account of the policy framework set out in Waste Strategy 2000 (Cm4693–2), including achieving targets set for recycling and recovery and the need to progressively divert increasing amounts of waste from landfill.

With the growth in municipal waste of 3–4 per cent. per annum in recent years, fulfilling our obligations through minimisation and recycling, although desirable, may not be feasible alone. In that case there is a range of technologies, in addition to conventional incineration, available for treating and disposing of waste. This includes those advanced conversion technologies which qualify as sources of renewable energy under the Renewables Obligation Order 2002.

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what proportion of dioxins emitted from waste disposal incinerators she estimates enters the food chain; [73488]

Mr. Meacher: Concentrations of dioxins in food are controlled by the levels in the surrounding environment, the critical factor for which is the concentration in air. Air concentrations are controlled by emissions from primary sources and by complex exchanges/recycling of dioxins with water, soil and vegetation. Dioxins may subsequently enter the food chain through vegetation and the diet of animals.

It is not possible to estimate what proportion of dioxins emitted from municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators enters the food chain but, because they contribute less than 1 per cent. of total dioxins emissions, we can say that they make only a minor contribution to levels in food.

Dioxins which do not enter the food chain remain in the environment and low levels of dioxins can be detected in all environmental media. In the UK the mean levels are currently approximately:

where one femtogram is one thousandth of a millionth of a millionth of a gram (10-15 g) and one nanogram is one thousandth of a millionth of a gram (10-9 g).

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will take measures to ensure that dioxin emissions from waste disposal incinerators are monitored more frequently. [73483]

Mr. Meacher: Municipal solid waste incinerators are regularly monitored by operators on a six monthly basis to check compliance with the EU wide emission standards. It is a breach of operators' authorisation conditions not to carry out this monitoring.

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Additionally, the Environment Agency carries out independent check monitoring at a minimum frequency of once per year. All monitoring results, including those carried out by the operators, are available on public registers.

This monitoring frequency is in excess of the bi-annual monitoring required as a minimum by the new Waste Incineration Directive. It is open to the Environment Agency to require or perform more frequent monitoring if that is considered necessary.

In tightening this year the authorisations under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 of existing municipal solid waste incinerators, the Environment Agency has applied a condition requiring the operators to report on a review of techniques for continuous dioxin monitoring, including cost, availability, accuracy, detection limits etc by 1 January 2003.

Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will further limit the acceptable amount of dioxin which may be emitted from waste disposal incinerators. [73484]

Mr. Meacher: Dioxin emissions from municipal solid waste incinerators are limited by authorisation conditions issued under the Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) regime. This regulatory regime is being subsumed into the even more exacting Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). Existing installations will have to apply for IPPC permits by 31 August 2005.

Additionally, we are currently transposing the new Waste Incineration Directive (WID), which will further tighten dioxin emissions standards tenfold to 0.1 ng/m3—the level considered technically achievable when the Directive was finalised in 2000. This will apply to all new incinerators within its scope by 28 December 2002, and to existing plant by 28 December 2005.

The Environment Agency has also recently varied the authorisations for existing municipal solid waste incinerators to reduce the dioxin emission limit to that required by the WID ahead of the required timescale. The IPPC Directive requires that permit conditions for these incinerations be set on the basis of best available techniques (BAT) for incinerator design and operation, and that those conditions be reconsidered in the event that future substantial changes in BAT make it possible to reduce emissions significantly below the WID standard without imposing excessive costs.

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