April 17, 1999, Cape Breton Post


Incineration commitment expensive and unhealthy

by Marlene Kane

To the Editor:

Over the next two years, the CBRM will spend $20M to burn garbage at the Grand Lake Road Incineration Facility. The never ending upgrades necessary with this incinerator and the ash handling/storage problems associated with incineration account for $12M in capital costs. Add to that another $4M a year in operating costs. The cost to taxpayers: $20M for two years. To make matters worse, this enormous amount of money is for only 53% of the area's garbage, 1/3 of which (by weight) must then be landfilled after incineration. Also, it doesn't factor in future costs for 'normal' replacement of incineration equipment. It's a staggering amount of money to burn garbage. It's especially disturbing when the CBRM is cutting jobs, services and programs.

The Mayor and Council have repeatedly blamed the recent budget shortfall on the provincial government's mandate to implement a recycling program. However, the $18.9M Solid Waste Management Strategy (SWMS), approved by Council last month, primarily addresses the incineration aspects of waste management ($12M) rather than reducing, reusing, recycling and composting. At a time when the emphasis for managing garbage should be geared towards the 3Rs, the CBRM is barely in first gear.

Instead of gradually working towards reducing the amount of waste going to the incinerator, the CBRM negotiated a deal with the Province, in 1997, to import 1400 tonnes of Nova Scotia's biomedical waste to this Facililty. The Nova Scotia Department of Environment (NSDOE), amended the permit to include the incineration of this waste in our community. This garbage incinerator became the Province's dumping grounds for biomedical waste on January 20, 1998. Environmental and health impact assessments were never conducted for this plan, nor were the residents of this area asked if they agreed with it.

The CBRM defends incineration and the biomedical waste deal by saying they 'generate revenue', but weighed against the real costs to run the incinerator, it's a pittance. Weighed against the real harm incineration does to the environment and to the people breathing its toxic gases, it's indefensible and irresponsible. Our municipal officials ran to the rescue of the province, for a small handout, when Halifax could no longer burn their own biomedical wastes due to incineration failures. Importing more hazardous waste is not what this area needs, especially to a Facility that can't properly burn garbage.

On December 31, 1997, before the CBRM began burning this biomedical waste, several of us visited the incinerator's ash disposal area. The ash produced from incineration is an obvious indicator of the incinerator's performance. We photographed and videotaped extensive amounts of unburned and partially burned garbage in the ash. If paper and plastic materials were slipping through this incinerator barely affected by the heat, how could we expect it to sterilize medical waste and eradicate the potential risks associated with these wastes (the biohazard component being a wide range of bacterium, viruses and other microorganisms). Despite the Minister of Environment Don Downe's assurance that the Facility was evaluated in a 'professional and responsible manner,' and despite 'experts' claims that this so-called 'World Class, State-of-the-Art' incinerator would safely handle the Province's biomedical waste, we were not convinced.

Following the release of the video to the media, the NSDOE proceeded to conduct an internal assessment which focused primarily on the incineration of biomedical waste, rather than of wastes in general. Incomplete combustion of garbage also presents serious risks and should have been considered equally. The assessment, by environmental engineer, Arun Chatterjee was released February 25, 1998. It concluded, "the Incinerators meet the requirements for good combustion practice during the incineration of biomedical waste." In other words, there should be no problems incinerating biomedical waste (despite the obvious problems incinerating garbage).

The NSDOE, then instructed the CBRM to correct the problem of unburned garbage. They were to incorporate several process changes, one of which included having the workers separate unburned material from the ash and put it back in the incinerator. Not only is that a hazard to workers but a State-of-the-Art incinerator should burn it properly the first time and shouldn't have to try it again. Former Environment Minister Wayne Adams was "confident that once the modifications were in place, the issue of unburned materials would be resolved." One year has passed and nothing's been resolved.

On January 24, 1999, one year after the Facility began handling all of the province's biomedical waste, we went back to the ash disposal area. This time, along with piles of partially burned garbage, we saw partially burned biomedical waste, including syringes (with fluid still in them), rubber tubing, surgical masks, hospital greens, big tubes with words such as "blood" and"capillary dialyzers" still legible on the unburned labels,etc. All of these materials are easily combustible, yet some are barely singed. This evidence flies in the face of the NSDOE's claim, in their 1998 assessment, that the CBRM Facility meets the requirements for good combustion practice during the incineration of biomedical waste. What should have been added at the end of that sentence was "sometimes."


by Marlene Kane

Municipal trash incinerator wrong method of disposal and should be shut down

Cape Breton Post, April 19, 1999

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) issued Guidelines for the Management of Biomedical Waste in Canada in 1992. The Guidelines describe incineration as a 'process whereby combustible materials are converted into non-combustible residue or ash.' Clearly, the CCME's description of ash in no way resembles the reality of what comes out of that incinerator. Based on the condition of the ash, the province's environmental regulators (NSDOE) should have ordered an immediate shutdown until an independent investigation was complete.

The manager of solid waste at the CBRM, Paul Oldford, stated they were well within their guidelines and they do expect to get some unburned material in the ash. Oldford said, "There's really no cause for concern."

I contacted the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva to get their opinion. I asked them to view the photographs I had taken, which were posted on the Internet by the Sierra Club of Canada. (biopictures.html ). The response I received stated that the pictures did show insufficiently burned material, which should not usually come out of a municipal incinerator, and that partially burned infectious health-care waste (such as used syringes) should be considered hazardous. It was also suggested that I contact the local authority in charge of enforcing regulations on adequate treatment and disposal of wastes. Our local 'enforcer', the NSDOE, has begun yet another internal investigation, but two months have passed and it's still business as usual at the incinerator.

The first internal assessment the NSDOE conducted in February 1998, was neither adequate nor accurate and I do not think this current investigation will solve the problems that exist. This so-called 'State-of-the-Art, World Class' facility leaves unsterilized biomedical waste and other easily combustible materials in the ash it produces. More band-aid solutions will be recommended and millions of dollars will be spent, instead of facing the reality that the machine isn't capable of effectively destroying waste and is hazardous to this community. The CBRM is pushing ahead with expensive upgrades before the investigaton is complete. It's as if they already know the conclusion.

Incinerating garbage and medical waste generates emissions which are released into the air we breathe every minute the incinerators are operating. The emissions can contain heavy metals, acid gases, dioxins and other toxic by-products, most of which are only monitored once a year. Temperatures which the permit requires be maintained in the auxiliary burner, to eliminate the potential for dioxin and furan formation, are not maintained. Dioxins are the most toxic industrial poisons known to modern science. A recent draft USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) report concluded there are no safe levels for dioxins.

The Facility has violated permit requirements, yet no action has been taken by the NSDOE. It seems that once this Facility was given a license to burn, it was given a license to self-regulate.

The NSDOE requested last June that the CBRM install a monitor which would continuously monitor HCl (hydrochloric acid) coming out of the stacks. Almost a year has passed and it still hasn't been installed.

In January 1998, Environment Canada released a report which rated the CBRM incinerator as the second largest source of man-made mercury pollution in Atlantic Canada at 88 kg/year, second only to the garbage incinerator in PEI. Mercury, a nerve poison that can cause muscle and brain dysfunction, is vaporized and dispersed through the stacks when materials containing mercury are incinerated. The NSDOE disputes this claim by the Federal Environment Department, saying it's closer to 1 kg/year.

The Municipality, by the sheer virtue of owning an incinerator, has no incentive to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost because they have a big mouth to feed. This incinerator is designed to 'burn' 150 tonnes/day and it must continue to have a fixed amount to incinerate. If the CBRM is forced to comply with the guidelines for the 3Rs, (they're not doing it voluntarily), there won't be enough waste to burn and they'll have to either close the Incinerator or try to import more waste to burn. Biomedical waste from Newfoundland, for example, which is currently transported on the CN Ferry to North Sydney and trucked through Cape Breton to New Brunswick. I can see how this could be of interest to the CBRM. Another back room deal for contaminated business. Based on the CBRM's past performance, will the residents of this area have a say in that decision? Absolutely not.

The contract with the CBRM to burn all of Nova Scotia's biomedical waste should be cancelled. The Province should stop contributing to the environmental woes of this area and employ other cheaper, safer, more effective methods of handling this waste. Revenue generating schemes sought after in future by the CBRM must be more environmentally responsible and less harmful to the residents of this community. This Facility should be closed now because it doesn't work, it isn't safe, it's too expensive and we simply do not need it. Non- incineration technologies for handling wastes are not only safer for the community and the workers, but they are less expensive and they provide greater economic benefits in terms of employment.
Marlene Kane is a concerned citizen who resides in Sydney, NS
Sobeys expansion should be stopped - ecological, legal, financial concerns

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