Open letter from North East health workers to Newcastle City Council 

Seven local councils in the North East—including Newcastle City Council—are paying a waste company to build and run a new ‘mega’ incinerator in Redcar. This project is incompatible with climate and health justice, yet councils want to burn our rubbish over Teesside for another 30 years. 

This open letter letter was started by members of Medact North East, a group of health workers from across the North East currently campaigning to stop the Redcar incinerator. 

We stand in solidarity with the grassroots group Stop Incineration North East, and communities of Teesside affected by the proposed project. 

Wherever you’re based in the North East, please add your name to let Newcastle City Council know that you believe they should honour their commitments to climate action and reduction of health inequalities, and withdraw involvement from the proposed incinerator.

If you would like to sign on behalf of your organisation, please email [email protected]

Why is the Redcar incinerator a problem?

  • Incinerators release both toxic pollutants and potent greenhouse gases – posing risks to our health and our environment. 
  • These risks are unequal. Waste is getting dumped on low-income communities with a history of systemic harm – deepening health inequalities further whilst waste companies make a profit at the communities’ and councils’ expense. 
  • As well as being irresponsible, this project is unnecessary. The North East already has too many incinerators: we’re at ‘over-capacity’. Instead, our local authorities urgently need to invest in recycling and reuse, which would create far more secure green jobs.
  • Time is up for new incinerators nationally. Scotland and Wales have already banned them, and England has recently placed a temporary ban while they review concerns. The North East is lagging behind. 

Why Newcastle City Council?

Newcastle City Council are a key partner in this project: if they withdraw, it will no longer be viable. During the ‘Byker incinerator scandal’, when the council was prosecuted for its handling of toxic ash from a local incinerator, they vowed they would never again burn waste in the city. Instead, they now plan to send thousands of tonnes of rubbish to be burnt on Teesside. Despite our coalition’s efforts to engage Newcastle City Council with our concerns, their response has been disappointing. We’re now letting them know publicly that health workers in the North East say “no!” to the Redcar incinerator.

Dear Councillor Marion Williams (Cabinet Member for a Connected, Clean City) and Newcastle City Council,

We, the undersigned, are a group of health professionals calling on you to honour your commitments to reduction of health inequalities and climate action. We ask that you withdraw your involvement with the new waste incinerator proposed for Grangetown, Redcar, and invest instead in improving recycling.

As you are aware, Newcastle is one of seven local councils planning to pay a waste company to build and run a large waste incinerator in Redcar for the next 29 years. The proposed ‘Tees Valley Energy Recovery Facility’ would burn up to 512,000 tonnes of waste per year from across the North East, including rubbish from millions of Newcastle residents [ref]. 

Burning waste poses risks to human health. Incinerators release pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and dioxins. The World Health Organisation does not recognise any safe level for dioxin exposure or particulate matter [ref, ref], and it is increasingly recognised that nitrogen dioxide is associated with adverse health effects even at levels below the UK’s current legal limits [ref, ref]. Strong evidence tells us that air pollution costs lives – through increasing respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and lung cancer, as well as emerging associations with dementia, low birth weight, and Type 2 diabetes [ref]

Not only does air pollution cost lives, but it does so unequally. Waste incinerators in the UK are three times more likely to be built in low-income areas [ref]. These figures aren’t an accident; they’re the result of planning processes that are systemically classist. Grangetown, the site of the incinerator, has among the highest death rates from respiratory disease, and lowest average healthy life expectancy in England [ref]. Neighbouring Dormanstown is already the second most polluted area in the whole of the North East [ref]. This incinerator would sit directly upwind of these communities – including schools, playgrounds, places of worship, GP practices, and a respiratory clinic [ref]. It would only serve to deepen health inequalities. 

As well as harming air quality, waste incinerators release high levels of greenhouse gases, including CO2 and methane. Indeed, many incinerators have a higher carbon intensity than conventional use of fossil fuels [ref]. The climate crisis is the biggest health threat of the 21st century, and its effects are experienced disproportionately by those at the sharp end of inequality [ref].  Newcastle City Council has declared a climate emergency: yet pushing ahead with this project is incompatible with your commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2030 [ref]. 

Finally, building more waste incinerators in the North East is simply unnecessary. The region is facing overcapacity, with more incinerators than feedstock [ref]. As Cllr Williams’ own damning 2023 report warned, this means local authorities increase the burning of recyclable waste to avoid financial penalties [ref]. We know that for councils across England with above-average incineration rates, high incineration is correlated with low recycling [ref]. The North East already has some of the highest incineration rates and lowest recycling rates in the country. Legally binding government targets state that by 2035, recycling rates must reach 65% (currently 34% in the North East), and by 2042, waste to incineration or landfill must be halved [ref]. This cannot be achieved by building more incinerators. 

As health professionals, we cannot stand by and allow this new incinerator to go ahead without raising the alarm on the health and environmental impacts, which will affect the populations that we serve in Teesside and the North East. Some of us live in the vicinity of the proposed incinerator. Many of us work at James Cook University Hospital and/or at Redcar Health Centre. We have all committed to work to protect and promote the health of individuals and communities. 

Your actions will change the future of this project. If Newcastle City Council were to withdraw from the planned incinerator scheme, it would no longer be viable. 

We therefore call on you to: 

  1. Withdraw your involvement from the Tees Valley Energy Recovery Facility by ending your support for the procurement process. 
  2. Invest in recycling, alongside waste reduction and re-use, as part of a fit for purpose waste management system – creating green jobs and moving us towards the legally binding target of 65%+ recycling.

Yours sincerely, 

Signatures to come