Covanta Rookery South Energy Recovery Facility

Yesterday (15 April 2021), Marston Vale residents took to social media to complain about the ‘acrid’ and ‘unbearable’ smell coming from the new Covanta incinerator at Rookery South, Stewartby.

One resident went as far as recording their phone call to Covanta campaigning about the smell and posting it on YouTube.

Others said they had complained to the local authorities and the Environment Agency.

The Chronicle approached Covanta about the smell. It responded with a statement from Hitachi Zosen Inova’s (HZI), the principal contractor for the site. Its site manager, Chris Barbour, said:

“With external construction works largely completed, the principal contractor, HZI, has begun commissioning activities at the facility. In advance of this, the site teams began updating near neighbours and local communities about the commissioning processes in January, and we’ll continue to keep people informed of progress.

“Hot commissioning can create initial short-term odours for approximately one day when each of the three boiler lines are firstly heated up as part of the process to clean them. This is much like the first use of a new domestic heater or boiler.

“The first line was started up on 1st April, the second on 15th April and the third is planned for the 20th April. It’s important to highlight that these odours will not be a feature of normal plant operations.

“They are short-term and are not harmful to people or the environment. As part of our commissioning responsibilities, we have proactively made the local planning authority and the Environment Agency aware of these activities.

“On behalf of the Rookery South project team, can I apologise to anyone affected by these temporary odours.”

Covanta sent an update letter in early March to stakeholders, including councillors, local authorities, and near neighbours.

However, while this letter did provide some information about the project’s commissioning phase, it only made residents aware of what they may see or hear, it did not mention odours. This was put to the Covanta spokesperson, but they were unable to respond before the Chronicle went to press.

[added 09:13 19/4/2021] A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said:

“The Environment Agency is carrying out regular inspections at the site to ensure the operators are complying with their permit. These inspections and other compliance activities will continue once the plant is operational.

“If a member of the public is concerned about a suspected environmental incident they should phone our free 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.” [end of additional comment]

Central Bedfordshire Council said that some residents had posted remarks on its social media feeds.

Bedford Borough Council was also approached for a comment but did not respond at the time of publication.