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Rugby Cement Works

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wells.]

10 pm

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): The subject of the debate is of great importance to my constituents, and I know that it is also important to my hon. Friends the Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), both of whom have taken a keen interest in it on behalf of their constituents. The subject is also of concern to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), whom I see here tonight.

The consequences of burning secondary liquid fuels, and indeed of burning conventional fuels, need to be considered calmly and rationally. It is useless to consider them in an hysterical manner; the last thing that one wants to do over such an issue is to cause panic in an area.

Rugby Cement works is an efficient industrial plant long established in the village of Barrington in my constituency. When it was first built in the late 1920s, it was regarded as manna from heaven by the unemployed and by the impoverished farms in the region. Indeed, many of the families of those who were first employed there and given relief are still employed there now. The firm therefore provides valuable employment, and also produces a vital material for housing and for the construction industry in general.

Rugby Cement is environmentally conscious, and has planted many trees in the area. It has always been open with the community, the people who live in the neighbourhood. Happily, I can say that, in its 70 years in Cambridgeshire, there has been no evidence to link its activities in any way with ill health in the local communities. About four years ago, during the recession, when conditions were extremely competitive, Rugby Cement became aware of the potential use of secondary liquid fuels as substitutes for coal and petroleum coke--solid fuels that have historically been used in the process. The company studied that use in the places where it was commonly accepted practice--Germany, France, the United States, Belgium and Scandinavia; it sought the advice of risk assessors, consultants, the Health and Safety Executive, Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, the National Rivers Authority and the fire brigades; and it came to the conclusion that secondary liquid fuels--SLFs, as they are known--could safely be burnt in its cement kilns.

Various trials took place, starting in 1993. The company submitted the results to Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, which considered them and said that the activity was safe within the limits set. Nevertheless, the issue remains one of considerable concern to the people in the villages in the area concerned. Those include Barrington itself, Harston, Haslingfield, Harlton, Hauxston and Trumpington.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although we have three licensed hazardous waste incinerators in the UK, the cement kilns can undercut them, since the emission limit for the cement

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industry is considerably less stringent? Does he further agree that the cement industry is becoming the UK's hazardous waste disposal industry?

Sir Anthony Grant: I do not agree with the hon. Lady's second point, but I shall be raising the other matter to which she referred later in my speech. I understand the hon. Lady's concern, because the prevailing winds from Barrington go up towards Cambridge. I hope that Cambridge city will be immune because I happen to live there, and the last thing I want is to be affected.

The parish council of Barrington--the site of the cement works--has gone into the matter with care, and engaged experts. They came to some conclusions, to which I shall refer. They said that the level of dioxin measured in the trials was comfortably below the European limit, and that heavy metals emissions were within Euro-limits also. The matter has also been considered by Cambridgeshire county council and, in particular, by South Cambridgeshire district council, which is more directly involved.

South Cambridgeshire held a debate on the subject, and said that it was going to hold a watching brief

"to ensure that pollution from SLF firing should not exceed that permitted during the burning of traditional fuels at Rugby Cement, Barrington".

The council further expressed the view that

"Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution should be made aware of the Council's concern . . . and of the further particular concern expressed by Committee at the possible increase in heavy metals and dioxins in emissions".

Everyone in the area is taking the matter seriously.

According to the Minister of State--with whom I have corresponded for the past year--in a letter sent to me on 8 February, the results of the test

"indicated that, compared with conventional fuel burning, the use of SLF resulted in a decrease in the emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter"--

I call that dust in my simple language--

"and HCI and no significant difference between stack emissions of dioxin and heavy metals. Emissions of dioxin and heavy metals were within the limits set for incineration plants".

Further trials are taking place, but Rugby Cement has applied to Her Majesty's inspectorate to vary the cement process authorised and to allow the permanent use of SLF up to 25 per cent. of calorific value. There is a consultation period of 42 days, in which people can make their views felt and express their objections.

The trouble with the subject is that there is a mass of technical detail which can be resolved only by experts. I am not an expert. I do not believe --with great respect--that the Minister is an expert, and I do not think that you are an expert, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Nevertheless, anxieties do exist in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends who are also deeply concerned about the matter. The main anxieties revolve around health. What is the effect of the emissions on health, and children's health in particular? Are there any long-term effects? I can understand that my hon. Friend the Minister may wish to leave the matter with the Department of Health. If he says that this is a matter on which he would wish to take advice from the Secretary of State for Health or a Minister from the Department, I will completely understand. I hope, however, that the point will be taken on board.

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I know enough about the matter to know that dioxins and heavy metals are very nasty things indeed. They are linked with cancer. Dioxin also results from smoking, and is found in the transport and steel industries, to name but a few, so it is not something that one can stop entirely without closing down some activities in our society.

The question that I must put to the Minister is, what are the safe levels? We are told that all the activities are within the safety limits, but can he assure us that that is correct? Secondly, are the tests that are being considered by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution adequate, or should they be more stringent? Are the inspectors properly qualified and have they the resources to deal with the tests? Will atmospheric tests be conducted in the various areas--there is concern about that? Most important of all, will monitoring of the atmosphere continue?

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does my hon Friend accept that the public have genuine fears, and have a right to know that what comes from the stacks is environmentally safe? Does he also accept that there is an onus on cement firms to ensure that the plumes coming from the stacks do not ground, and an onus on Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution to ensure that that does not happen?

Sir Anthony Grant: Yes, I agree with all that, and I think that Rugby Cement would agree, and would be anxious to comply with that obligation.

Has the inspectorate sufficient qualified staff? It has been suggested in Bedford--the area in which it carries out the tests--that that is not so. Will the Minister check, and clarify the position? If the inspectorate does not have the necessary resources, as some of the inspectors in Bedford seem to imply, will he try to get them, even if he has to bully the Treasury about it? If he is satisfied that the inspectors have the resources, will he tell them to get on with the job or, if they cannot do it, get them out and get in someone who can do it properly?

The organisation Friends of the Earth, with which hon Members will be familiar, has also expressed concern to me. It has gone into the matter with a great deal of care and states:

"there is totally inadequate evidence to prove that emissions from cement kilns burning hazardous waste in the short or the long term will not have a deleterious impact on the health of local residents".

Equally, one could argue that there is totally inadequate evidence to prove that the emissions will have a deleterious impact on health in the long term, so that argument is as broad as it is long. Friends of the Earth also complained that

"the frequency and sufficiency of monitoring by both the companies and HMIP is open to doubt."

Perhaps the Minister can reassure us about that. It also points out:

"the classification of such hazardous waste as `fuel' brings the whole regulatory system into disrepute."

That is a very stern criticism, but it leads me to a matter that has been referred to me by another source. Companies such as Cleanaway Ltd., which is involved in waste disposal, have pointed out their concerns. Such companies are directly in conflict commercially with the cement industry and complain of unfair contrasts in the regulations because waste is treated differently from fuel. They also say that there is not a level playing field.

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Rugby Cement says that Her Majesty's inspectorate applies the same stringent emission limits to cement works, regardless of the classification. Who is right? There is nothing wrong with commercial competition--I am entirely in favour of it--but human health and safety must come first, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

To sum up, one of my constituents, who is a science graduate, wrote to me saying that he had no objection to the activity, provided that there was stringent and exact testing, and long-term monitoring. It is important not to have just one test, and then go away and not monitor the problem. Will my hon. Friend the Minister give assurances on that? I have raised many technical questions, so I will understand if he says that he will have to write to me. But this is a continuing concern, and if he can set the anxieties of my constituents at rest, I shall be very grateful.

I am happy for my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton to make his point if he wishes.

10.15 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) for allowing me to be tail-end Charlie in a debate that he has initiated, and I congratulate him on the manner in which he has done it. I wish to raise a simple point of principle. If our constituents have fears, they must be addressed. What my hon. Friend is seeing in his constituency at Barrington is what my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and I both saw at Castle Cement in our constituencies about six months ago. If the burning of liquid fuels is safer for our constituents, it would be an act of ultimate political irresponsibility to join a bandwagon of demonstration that denied them that benefit. If, however, it is more harmful, it is absolutely right that our constituents' concerns be properly addressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley and I persuaded HMIP to apply more stringent rules to how it permanently monitors the problem. I simply implore my hon. Friend the Minister to reconfirm that there will be continuous monitoring; that the information will be made public; that the information is scientifically valid; that the fears of our constituents can be allayed; and that our thanks can be passed to the Minister for the Environment and Countryside for the way in which so far he has handled that topic.

10.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): I congratulate all those who have participated in this debate. They have taken a sensible, careful and considered attitude towards the problem, rather than allowing themselves to succumb to alarmist points. I hope that I can provide some reassurance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) has provided me with an opportunity to underline that we have a continuing determination to protect the environment in this country and to explain how we are dealing with the issues that he and others have raised.

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My hon. Friend will recall that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 singles out complex industrial processes with significant pollution potential by placing them under a particularly rigorous regime known as integrated pollution control. Part I of the Act requires that such processes, which include cement works, are regulated by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution.

When regulating these industries, HMIP's priorities are first to prevent and then to minimise and render harmless any releases from the process. The operator must use the best available techniques that do not entail excessive cost. The Act also requires that the inspectorate considers harm to the environment as a whole and has regard to the best practical environmental option when judging the techniques to be used.

The whole regulatory process is open to public scrutiny. Copies of the application, any authorisation or returns required by the authorisation and, where appropriate, notice of any formal enforcement action taken by HMIP are placed on public registers. It is important to recognise where the responsibilities lie in delivering environmental protection. The onus is on the operator. It is up to the operator to conceive, design, build, and operate his cement plant in such a way as to meet the requirements of the law. As my hon. Friend is probably aware, cement manufacture is an energy- intensive process in which energy costs represent approximately 65 to 75 per cent. of variable costs. The process uses a kiln heated to temperatures of over 1,400 deg C by burning a fuel, which, as he mentioned, is normally coal or petroleum coke. The cement-making process incorporates several features that may make it suitable for burning substitute fuels. For example, it is a continuous process, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and has high thermal stability for destroying organic materials; it provides a high-temperature environment in which the materials are heated for a long time in the burning zone; and raw materials used for the process are alkaline, and therefore tend to react with any acid gases emitted.

Secondary liquid fuels are residues and various side streams from the recycling of industrial solvents. They are flammable, and, while containing some pollutants that require control, make excellent fuels.

Large companies commonly use the solvent residues as fuels in their own boilers and furnaces. Smaller companies sell their used solvents to companies that specialise in solvent recovery. The specialist companies separate out the various components of waste solvents for recycling and then dispose of the residues to landfill or to high-temperature incineration. There are disadvantages to the disposal of those residues in landfill, while high-temperature incineration of the residues, on the other hand, effectively destroys the solvent residues.

As was mentioned, companies in other European countries and the United States that distil solvents have been converting the residues into fuel for other processes--predominantly cement kilns. Recently, that practice has been adopted in this country. Companies now specialise in purchasing solvent residues and blending them into tightly specified fuels required by the cement industry. There are several substitute fuels on the market with different trade names. Although the actual composition may vary to some extent, the generic nature of the material remains the same.

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Because of the need to be sure about the possible consequences of burning solvent residues in cement kilns--which is the main issue in the debate--HMIP has decided that it will not authorise the use of those fuels, except for the purpose of carrying out trials. The trials are to be for a limited period, the fuels used are to be tightly specified and emissions from the plant are to be monitored during the period of the trials. Once the trials have ended, the cement company may no longer use the fuel until the results of the trials have been evaluated.

Government policy on the burning of substitute fuels in cement and lime kilns was detailed in the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside on 23 June 1994. He made the following things clear. There will be no more such trials than are necessary to allow HMIP to determine best available techniques not entailing excessive costs. The operator must provide satisfactory data on baseline operations before trials commence, which must include emission data and kiln operating data. All trials must be to an agreed schedule. If any trial is adversely affecting the environment, it must stop. HMIP must agree the specification for substitute fuel in advance. The operator must provide continuous monitors for particulates, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and oxygen.

I can assure the House that that is still the case, and HMIP will not authorise the permanent use of substitute fuels until it has considered, and is satisfied by, the outcome of trials.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: Does the Minister agree, and will he tell the House, that the standard set for cement kilns is considerably less stringent than that for hazardous waste incinerators?

Sir Paul Beresford: I was coming to that, but the hon. Lady should recognise that the fuel that we are discussing, which is used as a fuel in cement kilns, is also used as a fuel in the incinerated waste incinerators. What is put into the waste incinerators is different from that which is put into the kilns. HMIP is anxious to ensure, and is ensuring, that what comes out as fumes is safe.

Mrs. Campbell: Surely, if a certain level of particulates, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide is considered to be safe for the hazardous waste incinerators, we should be applying the same stringent levels to the cement kilns.

Sir Paul Beresford: They are in effect, as I understand it, applied. The hon. Lady appears to be missing the point: that a different exhaust results from what one puts in in the first place. HMIP has imposed strict requirements on operators undertaking trials with substitute fuels. Apart from complying with those policy objectives, the operator must provide a wide range of information, including results of monitoring for dioxins and heavy metals and on-going progress reports, and install control systems to specified standards.

I understand that there is no sign of any additional harm to the environment from the burning of secondary fuels at Barrington or anywhere else where those trials have been taking place. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture,

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Fisheries and Food recently undertook the monitoring of milk in the area around the cement works at Clitheroe, which has the longest history of burning substitute fuels, and found no sign of any increase in dioxins or heavy metals.

The other interesting fact of which I was informed is that more than 90 per cent. of the dioxins to which we are exposed come from food, and that living near a cement kiln, regardless of the fuel, will not alter that picture.

Of course, there are commercial, as well as environmental issues which might explain some of views that we have heard tonight. The UK has a significant specialised incineration industry, which historically has used rather similar materials as fuel. It has been argued that permanent burning of substitute fuels will commercially damage the United Kingdom's specialised incineration capacity. On balance, it is thought that the short -term impact would be to impose higher costs on the merchant hazardous waste disposal industry. It is likely that the industry would have to purchase some additional support fuel rather than receive it as waste. That may raise prices for the disposal of the other wastes treated by that route, and it would affect the competitiveness of the disposal method. In the longer term, impacts may be less significant. I now return to the burning of secondary liquid fuel at Rugby Cement, Barrington. The first phase of trials at Barrington took place from 1 September 1994 to 16 December 1994, when the works reverted to burning 100 per cent. conventional fuels. Rugby Cement submitted a request for a further phase of trials to HMIP on 21 December 1994. The request accompanied monitoring data on the trials to that date and a comparison of the environmental impact of emissions when burning 100 per cent. coal and petroleum coke and 25 per cent. secondary liquid fuel.

HMIP asked the operator to supply further information to justify the proposal for a further phase which related in particular to raw material and fuel analyses and to dioxin releases and the use of test data in the company's evaluation of the effects on the environment, as shown by the first phase of the trials. HMIP received that additional information on 18 January 1995 and evaluated it in conjunction with the initial submission.

HMIP noted that the results submitted indicated that, compared with conventional fuel burning, the use of secondary liquid fuel resulted in a decrease in the releases of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and hydrogen chloride. There was no significant difference between stack releases of dioxins and heavy metals, which were well within the limits set for incineration plants.

Based on that, the first phase of the trial has shown that there are no adverse environmental effects associated with the use of secondary liquid fuel and, as mentioned by the tail-end Charlie--as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) called himself--there may even be the potential for environmental gains. HMIP gave permission on 20 January 1995 for a further phase of trials to take place in four stages. Further conditions have been imposed--that the specification of secondary liquid fuel may be to even tighter limits than previously, that the full results of monitoring the first stage will be available and evaluated prior to progressing

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to the second stage, and that the trials will be limited to four months, excluding evaluation time. The second phase of the trials commenced on 23 January 1995.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West referred to resources, and I raised that matter specifically with the head of HMIP, indicating the source of the concerns. To put it bluntly, he was astonished, and said that there were no resource difficulties. Rugby Cement has now applied to HMIP for a variation to its cement process authorisation to allow the permanent use of secondary liquid fuels at up to 25 per cent. substitution. The application and the supporting documents have been placed on the public registers, and the operator is required to advertise in the local press within 42 days of the application being lodged. Following that advertisement, HMIP will allow 42 days for public and statutory consultation. The overall period available for the determination of the application is four months. In determining the application, HMIP will consider whether the financial

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benefits to Rugby from the use of secondary liquid fuel justify further expenditure by the works to abate emissions from the process.

In all this, HMIP will ensure that the secondary liquid fuel will be used only in a way which does not jeopardise human health or the environment. In theory, a cement kiln offers ideal conditions for the destruction of these materials: temperatures are higher and residence times longer than in high- temperature incinerators--which may also answer the point about plume grounding. The presence of the clinker within the kiln also adds to its potential to destroy wastes. In any event, HMIP will not allow the process to continue if the results are not as good as those produced by incinerators.

In conclusion, HMIP has placed strict conditions on the trial use of substitute fuels in cement kilns and is monitoring developments closely. I can assure hon. Members that HMIP will not allow the permanent use of the fuels in cement kilns unless it is totally convinced that the environment, and therefore people's health, is fully protected.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.

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