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The health impacts of waste-to-energy emissions: A systematic review of the literature


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Cole-Hunter, T, Johnston, FH ORCID: 0000-0002-5150-8678, Marks, GB, Morawska, L, Morgan, GG, Overs, M, Porta-Cubas, A and Cowie, CT 2020 , 'The health impacts of waste-to-energy emissions: A systematic review of the literature' , Environmental Research Letters, vol. 15, no. 12 , pp. 1-18 , doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/abae9f.

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Waste-to-energy (WtE) processes, or the combustion of refuse-derived fuel (RDF) for energygeneration, has the potential to reduce landfill volume while providing a renewable energy source.We aimed to systematically review and summarise current evidence on the potential health effects(benefits and risks) of exposure to WtE/RDF-related combustion emissions.We searched PubMed and Google Scholar using terms related to health and WtE/RDFcombustion emissions, following PRISMA guidelines. Two authors independently screened titles,abstracts and then full-texts of original, peer-reviewed research articles published until 20th March2020, plus their relevant references. Overall quality of included epidemiological studies were ratedusing an amended Navigation framework.We found 19 articles from 269 search results that met our inclusion criteria, including twoepidemiological studies, five environmental monitoring studies, seven health impact or riskassessments (HIA/HRA), and five life-cycle assessments. We found a dearth of health studiesrelated to the impacts of exposure to WtE emissions. The limited evidence suggests thatwell-designed and operated WtE facilities using sorted feedstock (RDF) are critical to reducepotential adverse health (cancer and non-cancer) impacts, due to lower hazardouscombustion-related emissions, compared to landfill or unsorted incineration. Poorly fed WtEfacilities may emit concentrated toxins with serious potential health risks, such as dioxins/furansand heavy metals; these toxins may remain problematic in bottom ash as a combustion by-product.Most modelling studies estimate that electricity (per unit) generated from WtE generally emits lesshealth-relevant air pollutants (also less greenhouse gases) than from combustion of fossil fuels (e.g.coal). Some modelled estimates vary due to model sensitivity for type of waste processed, modelinputs used, and facility operational conditions.We conclude that rigorous assessment (e.g. HRA including sensitivity analyses) of WtEfacility/technological characteristics and refuse type used is necessary when planning/proposing facilities to protect human health as the technology is adopted worldwide.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Cole-Hunter, T and Johnston, FH and Marks, GB and Morawska, L and Morgan, GG and Overs, M and Porta-Cubas, A and Cowie, CT
Keywords: air pollution, energy, health, incineration, waste, waste-to-energy
Journal or Publication Title: Environmental Research Letters
Publisher: Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd.
ISSN: 1748-9318
DOI / ID Number: 10.1088/1748-9326/abae9f
Copyright Information:

© 2020 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Unported (CC BY 3.0) license. ( Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.

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