Durham Environment Watch





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Not Safe, Not Sensible - The Facts and Issues in Brief

from GAIA, April 2010

How you can get involved

While Niagara and Halton Regions have pulled back from their incinerator plans, Durham and York Regions are still moving ahead with their plan to build an incinerator here. The preferred site as recommended by the Consultants is in Courtice, on the shores of Lake Ontario between Courtice and Osbourne Roads.  Incinerators are now being sold as nicer sounding “energy from waste” plants (EFWs),  but they have many critical drawbacks long associated with incineration that are addressed below:

Contrary to myth circulated by some, there is no magic device with zero emissions.  In fact, all thermal treatment/incineration facilities, even those with the “best available technology”, produce and discharge toxic emissions. These include dioxins, furans, heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic & others), and other chemicals of concern.  Many of these toxic materials are associated with fine and ultrafine particles (nanoparticles) which can evade the best scrubbing devices in the stack and, once out in the atmosphere, they can travel very long distances.   When they are inhaled, these nanoparticles can travel deep into the lungs and are so small they are able to pass into the bloodstream. There are many health studies linking incineration with increased risks for cancer, respiratory  and heart disease, birth defects and other disorders.  

In addition to the air toxics noted above, incinerators emit a number of smog forming pollutants which include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and other combustion related pollutants.  Even the consultants hired by the proponents of this facility concluded that, of all the residual waste alternatives considered, incineration will have the greatest impact on our airshed. Halton’s medical officer of health, Dr. Nosal, raised the red flag about their proposed incinerator and stated, "The direct emissions are significant and that's one of the key issues we have concerns with." He commissioned air quality scientist Dr. David Pengelly to peer review the health effect section of that region’s EFW study. Dr. Pengelly reported that the Halton report failed to provide the evidence that modern incinerators are safe. Halton’s regional council soon after voted unanimously to shelve their incinerator plans. 

Incinerators here will not be as “clean” as those operating in Europe because many of Ontario’s air emission standards are appallingly lax compared to most European standards. 
Europe also has much more stringent regulations as to what can be burned so their waste stream is “cleaner” and much different from ours in Ontario. Only a handful of the hundreds of compounds being emitted will be monitored continuously. Stack tests for a wider list of pollutants are often only performed once a year with weeks of advance notice given to operators.  In addition, incineration creates emissions containing many other unidentified chemical compounds of unknown toxicity, which are not monitored or regulated.

We are told “landfill or incineration”. That is a false choice as incineration requires landfill. Approximately 25 – 30% of the mass of garbage that goes into an incinerator comes out as toxic ash which requires landfill, and the other 70% is released as emissions into the air.
 Covanta, the preferred vendor, has plans to ship ash to New York for disposal. So rather than shipping residual waste to Michigan or an Ontario landfill, we will be shipping ash to New York. How is this a "Made in Durham Solution"?

Dioxins, furans, and other toxins accumulate on our lands and waters. They enter the food chain and when animals eat contaminated plants and sediments, they get concentrated in their fat and pass it on in dairy and meat products. What are the implications for our locally produced food and our farm community? In Europe, meat, dairy and eggs must be regularly tested for dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs. We have no such regulations in Ontario and Durham Region has opted not to test meat, dairy, eggs or other local food produce. And they will have no baseline human studies.

The incinerator will cost about $276 MILLION dollars (and that total is rising) and approx $14.7 million in annual operating costs. York Region, originally a 50/50 partner is now only committing to 21% of capital costs. Incineration will likely necessitate a substantial increase in our regional taxes that may well extend beyond the lifespan of the incinerator. Since every penny of the Federal Gas Tax money will be put into the incinerator, taxes will likely have to rise substantially to pay for much needed infrastructure and/or services will be severely cut in other areas.
Put-or-pay provisions for incineration projects (included in the Durham Plan) can also be risky agreements for communities, as it requires the community to guess the amount of waste generation in their community for the next 25 - 35 years.  If they do not PUT as much waste as they estimated, they are still required to PAY for it.  But this approach is short-sighted, because it does not take into account the impact of new and less expensive diversion technologies, alternative cheaper disposal options, new regulatory requirements such as EPR, changes in the composition of the waste, and the impact the state of the economy has on waste generation.     

7.   NEED TO IMPORT WASTE FROM OTHER REGIONS  (York,  Peterborough, Northumberland, elsewhere?)
The proposed facility will burn a minimum of 140,000 tons per year. It will burn all of the municipal residual waste (and some industrial/commercial) from Durham region. It will also be burning waste from York Region. Discussions have taken place with Peterborough and Northumberland counties about taking their garbage to burn here. Of great concern is the fact that, in their Terms of Reference for the environmental assessment, the Regions proposed a facility with a capacity of 400,000 tons per year, but have dropped that to the lower amount, for now. Will we become the new Michigan?    

8.  CONTINUOUS WASTE LOAD REQUIREMENT DISCOURAGES SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES   Incinerators are designed to burn a fixed tonnage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for optimal operation. Residents would be subjected to the toxic fallout of those emissions continually for the 35 year lifespan of the facility. No matter how successful we are at reducing, reusing, recycling, repairing and refusing, the incinerator will still demand a fixed amount of waste to be burned and thus acts as a disincentive to these top priorities of sustainable waste management.

Incinerators are being sold as a wonderful way to solve two problems at once by getting rid of garbage while producing energy.  The fact is that not much energy is actually generated. Scientists estimate 3-4 times more energy is saved by reusing objects and recycling materials in the waste stream. The earth has limited resources and we cannot go back to energy consuming extraction of  virgin materials to replace items that would be burned.  If you recycle those things that burn best, like paper, cardboard and plastic from the waste stream, then what’s left doesn’t burn well and petroleum products must be added to get the garbage to burn or other energy consuming measures must be taken.
As an energy producer, mass burn incineration contributes more grams of greenhouse gases per kwh than coal-fired power plants who are known for their dirty energy. Incineration technologies are bad for climate change. 
You can’t express concern about global warming while at the same time recommending the burning of waste.

In February 2007, the European Union redrafted its waste protocol to make diversion a priority. A crucial point for the Members of Parliament was to reduce the amount of landfill and incineration, both of which cause pollution. Members rejected the idea that incineration be regarded as recovery. This should have major ramifications for the incineration industry as Europe-wide, only 33% of waste is diverted by recycling or composting.

As we plan for the next 20 years, we must make decisions about waste management which have the lowest possible impact on the environment and human health. At the FRONT END we must reduce the amount of garbage we generate. Aggressive diversion, extended producer responsibility, better industrial design for the 21st  century,  more stringent packaging laws are all components of a comprehensive waste strategy. At the BACK END, there are newer, non-thermal technologies which have a smaller impact on climate change. There are many cities and municipalities around the world with progressive and more sustainable waste plans. 

The Region of Durham made a decision to go to thermal treatment/incineration without fully exploring all of the different alternatives.
Durham Region in December, 1999 stated they will support the development of  “Energy From Waste” type facilities (EFW) . They hired consultants to promote their vision, not to give us unbiased studies or information on their proposal.  The Region’s consultants are members of the Canadian Energy-From-Waste Coalition who recently officially registered with the Ontario Lobbyist Registry, specifically to advocate for "Energy-From-Waste" (incineration).


Tell  Clarington Council  and Mayor Foster to vote NO to incineration.
Contact: council@clarington.net
Tell Regional Council members and Mayors to vote no to incineration.  (clerks@durham.ca)

For more information,  please visit:  www.durhamenvironmentwatch.org                 


See updated short INCINERATION FACT SHEET (July 2009)
and Fact Sheet References


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For more on incineration: 

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Page last edited
24 May 2011

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