Opposing claims over incinerator technology

Claudia Theophilus, Malaysiakini Mar 27, 2003

Proponents and opponents have engaged in an information war over the proposed RM1.5 billion thermal incinerator plant in Broga. (40km south of Kuala Lumpur) At the heart of this are claims and counter-claims linked to the health and environmental aspects.

What they say:

1. A general information pamphlet attributed to the Housing and Local Government Ministry claims that the plant will be able to treat solid waste and generate electricity from the energy released.

Greenpeace International senior scientist Dr Pat Costner said while, that is true, accompanying emissions pose an extremely serious threat to public health and the environment.

2. The government holds that building a thermal incinerator would upgrade the surrounding infrastructure and create more job opportunities for local residents.

Costner said incinerator workers and people living near a plant or in the vicinity of multiple incinerators are most likely to suffer the health impacts from pollutants because they are exposed to dioxins in the food chain, leading to slow poisoning.

She said the World Health Organisation has issued warnings about the subtle effects of dioxin poisoning among the public in developed countries. Von Hernandez of Greenpeace, The Philippines, and the southern coordinator of the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance/Global Alliance for incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), said incinerator operations actually increase unemployment in related sectors. He said about 10,000 people would have lost their jobs in the recycling sector if a proposed incinerator had been built in Metro Manila. The Philippines is the first and only country in the world to ban incinerators.

3. The government claims that the proposed thermal plant will pose no threat of dioxin release because the latest Japanese incinerator technology promotes zero emission.

Costner insisted that all incinerators release stack gas, fly ash, bottom ash or slag and other emissions potentially hazardous to public health. Dioxin is among the most widely known incinerator pollutants, followed by lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, chromium and acidic gases. She said many scientific studies have detected innumerable organic chemicals in incinerator outputs.

She also cited a report on waste incineration and public health released in 2000 by Washington-based National Research Council, a private non-profit institution providing advice on science and technology issues to the US Congress.

4. The pamphlet claims that the standard for gaseous, liquid and solid emissions set by the Department of Environment for the Broga project is on- par with strict international standards.

Greenpeace Japan toxics campaigner Junichi Sato said Japan had also set the same European standard but now has the dubious distinction of recording the highest dioxin levels in the world after almost 30 years of building thousands of incinerators.

5. The pamphlet claims the plant is capable of controlling the formation and emission of dioxin through relevant equipment, thus negating the potential of adverse health effects.

Costner said there is no existing control device or mechanism anywhere in the world to continuously monitor dioxin emission and levels.She insisted that dioxin poisoning, though very subtle, was extremely problematic, especially in young children, and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. Children and their reproductive systems are the most vulnerable to DNA alteration as proven by numerous scientific research in Europe, the Americas and Asia.Costner said that, based on their high toxicity, these substances are capable of damaging the DNA structure and lead to mutations which help develop cancers. She listed altered immune function, nervous disorders, liver and kidney function disruptions and hormonal problems as among the health hazards of dioxins.

6. The government argues that incinerators are necessary to handle the rapidly increasing volume of solid waste in urban areas throughout the country.

Costner said incinerators are expensive projects due to the high technology used, maintenance costs and the clean-up expenses once the shelf-life expires, usually after about 20 years. She added that clean production and zero waste initiatives are among the better long-term alternatives.