Hidden emissions

A story from the Netherlands
Case Study

Although presented as state of the art, the youngest incinerator in the Netherlands is far from a clean: long-term tests reveal emissions of dioxin, furan and persistent organic pollutants far beyond the limits.

The case of the REC plant raises important questions for future policy-making concerning waste incineration and its potential effects on public health and the environment.

Conclusions and Recommendations From This Report
The dioxin emissions of the so called ‘state of the art’ REC incinerator Harlingen continue to be underestimated, and frequently go far beyond the limits set by the environmental permit (0,01 ng TEQ/Nm3). On top of that, the regulatory short-term measurements structurally underestimate dioxin emissions.

The mandatory pre-announced controls of dioxin emissions must be replaced by an appropriate scheme of long-term sampling. When using approaches like AMESA for long-term sampling, special attention should be paid to interruptions in the monitoring, as it is key for valid long-term sampling to be continuous.

The broad scale of UPOPs emitted by the REC incinerator signals incomplete combustion, probably caused by insufficient homogeneous temperatures and oxygen levels in the after combustion zone, and improper use of bypasses.

In order to reduce emissions of UPOPs in the environment, a more stringent application and a better enforcement of the Stockholm Convention is highly recommendable. The temperature and the oxygen levels in the after-combustion zone should be monitored on-line and duly enforced during normal operation, and this also under the most unfavourable incineration conditions, as mentioned by the Stockholm Convention papers and the IED.

Dioxin emissions during transient stages of start-up and shutdown easily exceed annual emissions during steady state. All dioxin emissions should be taken into account, not only emissions during the ideal steady state operation. Also, excluding emissions that occur during transient stages from monitoring regulations should be stopped immediately.

Moreover, the results of the measurements in the REC incinerator raise important questions for future policy-making concerning what can be accepted as normal operating and monitoring conditions for incinerator plants, with respect to their potential effects on public health and the environment. The studies reviewed here show unequivocally that dioxins are still a serious issue, that measurement programs still show serious shortages, that the health of the population is still under threat and there is unfortunately still a long way to go to totally eliminate dioxin emissions to the environment.