Metro Vancouver frequently cites the conclusions of the UK Health Protection Agency to reassure us that incinerators won't harm our health.
The HPA is often quoted as saying things like this: "The HPA considers that modern, well-run incinerators pose only a very small and probably undetectable risk to health. This is because they have a very small impact on pollution levels locally or at a distance. In assessing risk, we take into account not only the toxicity of the compounds concerned but, very importantly, the likely concentrations to which people may be exposed."
In a letter posted on a UK Health Research website, HPA Chief Executive Justin McCracken repeats this statement, and goes on to admit that "we have not studied the 'rates of illness or premature deaths at electoral ward level around any incinerator'."
Why don't they look at the health of people living around incinerators?
Because "the number of people around an incinerator is too small to detect whether or not the incinerator is having an impact on health."
If people aren't healthy around incinerators, the HPA contends, it could be any number of things that are causing their problems: "Such studies need to be able to distinguish any influence of the incinerator (which is expected to be extremely small) from the many other factors that influence rates of illness or premature deaths."
How would you feel if the agency established to protect your health based its conclusions on what it "expects" rather than what it actually finds -- or doesn't find because, in fact, it doesn't even bother to look.
What you don't look at is, indeed, "probably undetectable."
(Metro Vancouver and the Ministry of Environment made a similar call 20 years ago when they ignored a recommendation from an early study of emissions near the Burnaby incinerator. The study had said it was unable to establish a clear link between the new incinerator the elevated levels of toxics it found in soil and vegetation in the area. It recommended that the measurements continue, to build a better database. Those tests have never been done.)