STAFF at Gwent's controversial toxic waste incinerator, pictured, worked their final shift on Saturday, as the plant finally closed.

Workers completed their last shift at the plant, run by the company Shanks, formerly Rechem, which is ending its operation in Pontypool due to changes in demand for the service.

The Argus revealed in January that 50 jobs at the site were to be axed, and 20 staff would stay on to supervise the incinerator's shut-down phase.

The closure was hailed a victory for local residents, who had fought a long-running battle to get it closed down. Campaigners said the incinerator caused pollution and health problems - allegations refuted by the company.

An Argus campaign for a public inquiry into the environmental impact of the plant, launched in 1987, attracted thousands of supporters and resulted in the National Assembly commissioning a report.

The report by the Environment Agency found that Shanks had done considerable work to clean up the plant since the mid-1990s and that levels of contamination, both inside and outside, seemed to be historical.

There was no evidence of legislations being contravened.

Cynon Edwards, Shanks Group spokesman, said on Saturday: "The incinerator itself was switched off earlier this week.

"There has been some opposition to the site in the past, generally because people feared the site.

"There has been a number of tests which indicated that the site was operated well. It has won health and safety awards."

Based in Pontypool since 1974, the incinerator dealt with hazardous waste such as pharmaceutical goods and pesticides.

The site was one of only three merchant hazardous waste incinerators in England and Wales. The others are Cleanaway's Ellesmere Port and Shanks' Southampton plant. Shanks Group operates throughout the UK and Europe and is the Continent's biggest independent waste management company, with extensive interests in Belgium and Holland.

Despite a 2000/2001 trading year which saw the company turn over more than £500 million for the first time, the bulk of the increase was derived from acquisitions in the Netherlands at the end of the previous year.

In the UK, trading profit declined by five per cent to £30.7 million on turnover which increased by nine per cent to £260 million.