The right to breathe clean air

By Delia Mattis

Black Lives Matter Enfield is calling for plans to expand the Edmonton incinerator to be paused and for the North London Waste Authority to properly consult the people of Enfield. We believe it is racist planning that determines where these incinerators are allowed to exist.

Incinerators are three times more likely to be built in deprived areas which are more likely to have a racially diverse population like Edmonton, which is around 60% black, brown or other racial or ethnic group. They had a similar plan for an incinerator in Cambridgeshire but it wasn’t in keeping with the white, middle and upper class population there and so the plans were thwarted.

Incinerators are placed in these working class areas by design, where the people generally don’t have the capacity to fight back. But they picked the wrong area this time because we will not stop fighting. If it ain’t good enough for Cambridgeshire, it ain’t good enough for Edmonton.

The worst thing about the current plans is that the vast majority of people in Edmonton had no idea what is going on. The so-called consultation ended in 2015 and only those living within a one mile radius were properly consulted.  Out of 2 million north London residents only 72 responded to the first stage and 123 responded in the second stage. 

Most reasonable authorities would not see such a poor engagement rate as a green light to go ahead with any plans, but the North London Waste Authority regularly boast about their ‘in-depth consultation.’ Black Lives Matter Enfield and local XR groups have joined forces and are campaigning against this monstrosity. The campaign has included the leafleting of the whole constituency of Edmonton and we have now moved onto Chingford. It also includes a petition that has now been signed by over 2,100 residents. As I pointed out in my deputation to the North London Waste Authority in June, our petition has more legitimacy than their sham consultation.

What’s so bad about an incinerator?

Evidence shows that small particulate matter can travel many miles and a recent study by Air Quality Consultants for the Greater London Authority calculated that 15 deaths a year in London were partly caused by emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from five London incinerators. This information can be found on the Mayor of London/London Assembly website. Before our local campaign started, we went to Edmonton Green to ask people if they know about the incinerator expansion plans and that it burns black and orange bin waste from seven boroughs. Around 99% of the people knew nothing about it.

In recent years, people have become more informed about the issues caused by air pollution and climate change. The results of climate change were displayed last year in Jamaica. We saw footage of whole buildings being swept away by rivers of flood water that left behind complete devastation to a country already suffering from the economic devastation since Covid-19. Black communities are certainly becoming more aware and are starting to campaign around this issue and the recent floods and fires in the UK and across the globe are further evidence of the climate emergency.

Ella Kissi Debrah died in 2013. She lived near the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south London, and the recent coroner’s ruling that air pollution made a material contribution to her death has sent shock waves through the black community in Enfield. Edmonton is already polluted from the North Circular Road. The expanded incinerator on top of this screams that black lives don’t matter to the politicians that endorse this toxic, air-polluting choker.

Covid-19 has disproportionately affected black and brown communities and experts are now linking air pollution to Covid 19 deaths. The ONS has published a report on the link between long-term exposure to dirty air, severe symptoms of COVID-19 and a greater risk to death. This gives even more reason for black communities to oppose the plans.

The NLWA are out of touch with local residents, the Shadow Cabinet, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who agreed to meet with campaigners in September, Deputy Mayor Joanne McCartney, who has stated that she does not believe in incineration and that the council should reconsider, South East Region TUC and many other organisations. Our campaign continues to gather pace and now BBC Radio 4 have just green-lighted a series which includes the Edmonton incinerator and the power of local people to make a difference. We hope that more people will join BLM Enfield and XR groups in our campaign to raise awareness, because our community has the right to breathe clean air.

We are currently fundraising for our campaign, please donate if you can here and sign our petition here if you live within the seven boroughs

Delia Mattis is a social justice activist from BLM Enfield, Stop the Edmonton Incinerator and Kill The Bill official campaigning groups.

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