What comes out of a waste incinerator?

What goes up, must come down.  Here are some of the things that come out of a waste incinerator.  Find out here what happens when these emissions breach ‘safe’ limits.

Particulate Matter (PM)

Contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer.

Sulphur dioxide

Hospital reports show a mortality increase on days with higher SO2 levels.

Affects the respiratory system and the functions of the lungs, and causes irritation of the eyes. When SO2 combines with water, it forms sulfuric acid; this is the main component of acid rain.

Nitrogen oxide

They can form a photochemical smog through reaction with sunlight. It can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide is a major greenhouse gas and 310 times more impact per unit weight than carbon dioxide.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Causes bronchitis in asthmatic children and reduced lung function growth.

The South London Incinerator will produce 296 tonnes of NO2 a year – the equivalent in weight of 25 double decker buses


Contributes to several environmental problems, including direct toxic effects on vegetation, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, and the formation of secondary particulate matter in the atmosphere, with effects on human health, atmospheric visibility and global radiative balance.

Hydrogen Chloride

Hydrogen chloride is a sensory and respiratory irritant. Being highly soluble in water, following inhalation the gas is readily deposited in the nose and upper respiratory tract.

Hydrogen fluoride

Can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Hydrogen fluoride gas is highly corrosive and will damage metal structures and buildings or monuments made of limestone.

If high levels of Hydrogen fluoride gas dissolve in water, aquatic organisms will be harmed and even killed. Hydrogen fluoride gas can attach itself to particles in the air, which are then deposited on soils or plants.

Carbon Dioxide

Know for many years as a major contributor to greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.  CO2 also increases the acidity of the oceans.

Carbon Monoxide

Reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of blood and interferes with oxygen release at the tissues. those at greater risk of adverse effects from CO exposure are people with heart problems, asthma, pregnant women, Fetuses and young infants.

Volatile Organic Compounds

They can form a photochemical smog through reaction with sunlight. It can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases.

VOC’s include heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium.


Apart from the chimney emissions, about 28% of the rubbish going in, comes out the other end as ash which has to be taken elsewhere for further processing.

About 8% of the ash is so dangerous it is classed as hazardous waste and this has to be disposed of in specialist landfill sites.

For the South London Incinerator there will be about 10,000 tonnes of this hazardous waste a year.

That’s about 3 skip loads of extremely toxic ash a day being driven through our streets.

Category: All you need to know about burning rubbish

← What comes out of a waste incinerator?
  • Stop The Burn

    Thanks for the question. Bag filters will be used, but these do not stop everything from coming out. Whilst the chimneys are designed to disperse the pollutants beyond the air quality management area (Beddington Lane is a designated AQMA because it is already too polluted) I’m afraid the simple answer is that no one really knows which pollutants and how much of them will fall on the nearest houses.

    Of course the incinerator is desigened to keep pollutants below EU limits but there is no burden of proof required by Viridor or the council to show this incinerator will be completely safe. They state that it doesn’t present significant risk to human health but have yet to do any long term studies (one is due out soon but they will not delay the incinerator until this report is out).

    Once the pollution is out there, you cannot take it back. Also, don’t forget the 666 diesel lorries a day which are known to cause cancer.

    Sutton council have plans to build 3 incinerators down Beddington Lane, and unfortunately they have not taken in to account the accumulative effects of this.

    • A_Layman

      Thank you.
      1 I have had some success with scrubbing as an odour control, but not at exhaust gas temperatures.
      2 Do you know if these are proposed to be fluidised bed furnaces or more conventional?