We deserve clarity on just what is going into our air

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Not long after it was built, the incinerator in Quatermaine Road, Copnor, was described by its then operators Onyx Hampshire as ‘the envy of the country.’

But the energy-from-waste burner was always controversial, and there were major campaigns against it being built during the 1990s.

It was only after a public inquiry that the project got the green light in 2001.The £50m project eventually became fully operational in 2005.

Shortly after it opened, project director John Collis said: 'Environmentally, the Portsmouth energy-from waste plant is as good as it gets.

'It is leading the way and is setting the standards for the rest of the UK to follow.'

At the time it was said that the plant would burn 165,000 tonnes of domestic rubbish a year collected from homes in Portsmouth, Gosport, Fareham, Havant and parts of the East Hampshire and Winchester City districts. Now, as we approach halfway through its 30-year lifespan lifespan, a cross-party report has been published which claims that harmful emissions from incinerators across the UK have been going unreported.

The report says that ‘very few, if any’ operators have been following the Environment Agency’s guidance from 2012 to assess how much of the emissions known as PM10 and PM 2.5 are being released.

According to the figures in the report, the Portsmouth incinerator churned out 222.4 tonnes of nitrous oxide in 2017, the result of burning 202,192 tonnes of waste.

While Portsmouth is by no means the worst offender in the report – that dubious honour belongs to the one in Runcorn with a whopping 980 tonnes – it is still immensely troubling.

However, these figures should be approached with caution. They are the result of a calculation based on a formula – it’s not the same as measuring carbon dioxide emissions, for example, which are the the result of a definite reading from a meter.

Before she joined parliament, former Portsmouth North MP Sarah McCarthy-Fry was a leader of The News’ backed Ban The Burner campaign, which ultimately helped force the county council to build the most environmentally friendly facility possible. She now quite sensibly asks how exactly these figures were measured.

But with recycling rates stalling and increasing amounts of waste heading to the incinerator, there is a definite need for clarity – we deserve to know exactly how much of these emissions are being pumped into our atmosphere.