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Council policy on biomass boilers rejected by public protection chiefs

9th Jan 2013

Birmingham City Council's biomass policy would damage air quality and public health argues public protection committee

Birmingham's public protection committee has called upon the council to suspend its plan to install biomass boilers while evidence is gathered to examine their safety. The policy has been designed to encourage businesses, organisations and homeowners to install biomass boilers which burn fuel from tree cuttings and fast growing crops and are therefore seen as being sustainable. Biomass has also been promoted by central government as a sustainable method of heating and energy generation intended to move the country away from dependence on fossil fuels.

Some boilers have already been installed in the city including a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generator at ICC and another, more controversial, boiler at the North Birmingham Academy.

The public protection committee monitors air quality in the city and so far the only areas of concern have been to do with traffic congestion. Biomass boilers can, however, release fine particles into the atmosphere including carbon, oxides, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and sulphur oxides. Some of these have been known to aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, particularly asthma.

"This policy does raise some serious concerns" said Councillor Barbara Dring, the chairwoman of the public protection committee. "It is one of the most alarming I have seen. Given the financial incentives I am worried that funding and cost will take precedent over health issues. I am worried this could be another asbestosis situation with cases coming out years after exposure."

The draft biomass policy is due to be submitted by the cabinet at the end of the month for final approval but apparently members of all political parties have raised concerns about the policy. Councillor Majid Mahmood (Lab Hodge Hill) for example said that the policy does not appear to be 'green, safe or smart' and identified a number of problems with it. He recommended that the policy should not be adopted by the cabinet but instead be passed to the full council. Other councillors raised similar concerns. Council officer Mark Woolsencroft meanwhile told the committee that while filters can be installed on chimney to limit emissions neither the council nor public health authorities have any legal way to enforce the use of such filters.

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