Briefing : Drax’s Coal-to-Biomass conversion increases levels of dangerous small particles

Drax Power Station (Source: geograph.org.uk)

11th August 2017

Read the report here: Drax and air quality briefing 2017

A new investigation by Biofuelwatch has discovered that since Drax Power Station’s part-conversion to burning wood pellets, emissions of dangerous dust particles have increased by 135%. The particulates released each year by the power station are now equivalent to adding 3 million diesel cars to the roads.

The tiny particles, known as particulates, are an especially dangerous form of air pollution linked to a wide range of health problems, including cancer, heart disease and neurological diseases. The World Health Organisation has said there is ‘no safe level of exposure’ to particulates.

Claire Robertson, the report’s lead author, comments “it’s appalling that despite this huge increase in particulate pollution, there is no monitoring air quality in the communities surrounding Drax. We found that Selby District Council has never monitored particulates, despite already having air quality issues with other pollutants.”

“The buck shouldn’t stop with the council however – the national government needs to step up. DEFRA’s nearest particulate monitoring station is in Hull, and national legal limits for particulates are over twice the limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.”

Nationwide there has been a large increase in burning wood pellets to generate electricity, from 0.4 million tonnes burnt in 2010 to 15 million in 2015, and this is set to increase further. Biofuelwatch estimate that annually, £800 million of public money is given to support biomass electricity schemes.

Robertson comments “we know that burning wood is the largest source of particulate air pollution nationwide, yet the Government are pouring money into these schemes without any proper assessment of the public health impacts, and with air pollution already a major health crisis in this country.”

A separate report released last year by Sandbag, WWF and others estimated that Drax’s air pollution causes 590 premature deaths each year. This is due to a combination of pollutants from the approximately 6.5 million tonnes of wood and 3 million tonnes of coal the power station burns each year.

Robertson comments “Drax are painting a picture of wood pellets as a clean, green fuel compared to coal, but this is very far from the truth. In terms of air pollution, burning coal and burning wood are both terrible, and for public health and for the natural environment, Drax needs to stop burning both and eventually shut down”

“However, hundreds of people living nearby rely on Drax for employment. These people shouldn’t have to chose between their health and their income – if the power station is shut down, there needs to be a managed transition and jobs for them to go into.”

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