The EUROHAZCON study published in medical journal The Lancet last week reports increased rates of birth defects, such as Down's syndrome, among populations living close to 23 hazardous waste landfill sites across Europe - including sites in Essex and Merseyside.
'We acknowledge the EUROHAZCON report as a contribution to the growing body of research on the health effects of landfill sites but stress it is crucial that this report is considered within context.
'The report's authors themselves state that further research is necessary to prove if there is any link between birth defects and hazardous waste landfill sites and such research is already being taken forward by the UK government.'
Minister for environment Sue Essex said: 'The assembly has not yet had the opportunity to see a full copy of this EUROHAZCON report, but the government published a more extensive study (The Small Area Health Statistics Unit study) covering a much wider number of landfill sites across the UK last summer.
'This report stated that excess risks of birth defects to those living within a 2km radius of hazardous waste landfill sites was small and could be accounted for by other factors than landfill sites.'
Ms Essex added: 'Most landfill sites in Wales, including Nantygwyddon, do not accept hazardous waste. Once the report is published the assembly will be considering those sites that do with relevant local councils, health authorities and the environment agency. Local residents can be assured that their concerns will be addressed as priorities.'
1. SASHA study
The Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) study was published on 16 August 2001 and is available on the department of health website. The study found no link with increased rates of cancer; a small increased risk (1%) of congenital anomalies around all landfill sites and a 7% increased risk around hazardous waste sites. It was acknowledged at the time that further research was needed into the small increased risk of congenital anomalies and that the government-funded research programme would take this forward. The study was reviewed by the government's independent expert committee on toxicity in food, consumer products and the environment (COT).
A 7% higher rate of congenital anomalies around hazardous sites represents about 60 births across Britain and in Wales a very small number, probably no more than 3.
2. Landfill sites taking hazardous waste in Wales
Twenty-two landfill sites in Wales are licensed to take 'special' or hazardous waste, although not all of these are currently operational. Of the 22, 9 are licensed to take ranges of commercial, household and/or industrial waste together with bonded asbestos, such as old roof tiles, as the only special or hazardous waste. The remaining 13 sites are co-disposal sites and take both hazardous waste (as defined in the Special Waste Regulations 1996) and household, commercial and other waste.
The sites licensed for co-disposal are:
Trecatti, Merthyr Tydfil
Standard Landfill. Buckley, Flintshire
Astbury Quarry, Wrexham
Pwllfawatkin, Pontadawe, Swansea
Hafod Quarry, Johnstown, Wrexham
Brookhill, Buckley, Flintshire
Waunllwyd, Ebbw Vale.
Coedely, Tonyrefail, Rhondda Cynon Taff
Llanddulas, Colwyn Bay.
Bryn Posteg, Llanidloes, Powys
The sites licensed to take bonded asbestos are:
Giants Grave, Briton Ferry, Port Talbot.
Greenwood Quarry, Wenvoe,Vale of Glamorgan.
Lamby Way, Cardiff
Graving Dock, Barry Dock, Barry
Ferry Road, Cardiff
Rhoose Point, Rhoose, Barry.
Docks Way, Newport.
3. Landfill Directive
The EC Landfill Directive will require landfill sites to be licensed to accept either only hazardous or only non-hazardous or only inert wastes. By 2004, the Directive will require co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste to cease. Sites taking hazardous wastes must not take other wastes. The Directive also requires that all wastes going into landfill sites are pre-treated to reduce any risks to people or to the environment.
4. Wales waste strategy
Later this spring the Welsh assembly government will publish a new waste strategy to replace in Wales Waste Strategy 2000. This will emphasise the need to reduce the amount of all wastes being produced and to improve the management of waste by greatly increasing recycling and composting. The consultation paper on the new strategy, Managing Waste Sustainably, published in July 2001, repeated the target in Waste Strategy 2000 for reducing the amount of hazardous waste generated by around 20% by 2010 compared with 2000, and in the order of 50% by 2020.