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#206 - Hazardous Waste Incineration -- Part 3: Citizens Slow Growth Of Incineration, 06-Nov-1990

As we saw last week, there are really only two workable options for
dealing with the bulk of toxic wastes: make them go "away" by burning
them in an incinerator, or don't create them in the first place. All
other options (chemically detoxify them, recycle them, dispose of them
on land) suffer from serious problems that will probably prevent the
growth of these alternatives. Chemical detoxification is complicated
and expensive; recycling doesn't usually work because most wastes
aren't pure enough to be serve as a raw material for a new industrial
process; and land disposal exposes everyone involved to major
liability-polluted water, sick children, lawsuits and TV cameras.

The "pollution prevention" option requires thought, skill, planning,
new technologies, major capital investment, a commitment to a long-term
future and to social values that reach beyond the next quarterly
profit-and-loss statement. The "burn it up" option requires only an
incinerator and a government agency willing to overlook serious health
hazards created by hazardous waste incineration. William Reilly's EPA
(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has shown itself to be just such
an agency. Bill talks a good game about pollution prevention but in
actual fact his staff is working overtime to promote incinerators. Bill
favors burners, beyond a doubt.

In truth, incineration has four things going for it: (a) a single
process treats all wastes--just about anything can be burned even
though burning it may not detoxify it (such as metals); in this regard,
an incinerator is as useful as a landfill, which is one reason why
people call an incinerator a "landfill in the sky." (b) Burning wastes
is relatively cheap compared to many of the alternatives. (c) An
incinerator causes the bulk of the waste to "go away" as if by magic--
it "disappears" into thin air. (d) The producer of the waste escapes
liability--once the waste is burned, any resulting problems belong to
the incinerator, not to the original producer of the waste (unlike a
land disposal site where liability may come back to haunt the original
producers of the waste years later).

Therefore, for the most part the future of hazardous waste "management"
throughout the early '90s will consist of a major struggle: pollution
prevention vs. incineration. So far, it's a stand off.

Each year a company called McCoy and Associates in Lakewood, Colorado,
assesses the status of the hazardous waste processing industry. McCoy's
1990 assessment[1] had this to say about incineration:

"The incineration boom is heating up again. This year we have
identified 16 new hazardous waste incineration projects--twice as many
as were reported last year (1989), but still down from the peak of 29
new projects that we reported two years ago....

McCoy goes on: "[However,] very little new waste management capacity is
actually coming onstream. Stringent RCRA permitting requirements,
restrictive state citing criteria, public opposition, and lawsuits
often cause long delays or cancellation of new projects....

"Although new proposals abound, progress in siting, permitting and
constructing those facilities is slow.

"Most of the new projects that we've identified in the past few years
haven't made significant progress. We count 60 projects that are still
'under review' or that were otherwise set back, delayed or canceled
during the past year.

"Although [19 projects...] made headway last year, many more
experienced setbacks or delays. Therefore, the amount of new waste
management capacity that actually became available was relatively
small.... Thus net waste management capacity appears to have remained
relatively constant last year.

"As in past years, public opposition has played a major role in slowing
progress on new hazardous waste management facilities."

In sum, the McCoy report indicates that there is a war going on now
between government-and-industry on the one hand, and citizens on the
other--and during 1990, they fought to a stalemate.

We predict that citizen victories will soon begin to overwhelm the
industry. Much new technical information is coming available to help
citizens fight hazardous waste incinerators. For example, Pat Costner
and Joe Thornton of Greenpeace on June 22, 1990, issued 46 pages of
comments that add up to a devastating critique of the EPA's proposed
hazardous waste regulations.[2] EPA issued the regulations April 17,
1990 (FEDERAL REGISTER, pgs. 17862-17921). [Natural Resources Defense
Council (NRDC) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) may have commented
on these regulations as well, but they did not return phone calls
before our deadline.] Sanford Lewis and Marco Kaltofen of the National
Toxics Campaign (NTC) have focused recently on the infamous
Jacksonville, Arkansas, proposal to incinerate chemical-biological
warfare agents in a residential community; Lewis and Kaltofen stress
available alternatives to incineration.[3] Stephen Lester and Brian
Lipsett of the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) in
INDUSTRY,[4] a 12-page summary of accidents, failures, breakdowns and
health or environmental threats from specific incinerators--an overview
of the types of problems that can occur. Ed Kleppinger of EWK
Consultants in September, 1990, issued CEMENT KILN INCINERATION OF
HAZARDOUS WASTE: A CRITIQUE.[5] Thus the armament that citizens can
bring to bear against any particular hazardous waste incinerator (or
cement kiln) is growing daily. Even an industry that has the
enthusiastic support of its regulatory partners at EPA cannot long
withstand a technically-overwhelming attack from the citizenry.

--Peter Montague


[1] See the March/april, 1990, issue of the HAZARDOUS WASTE CONSULTANT,
Vol. 8, Issue 2, pgs. 4-1 through 4-53. A state-by-state rundown on all
treatment and disposal facilities operating and proposed. An annual
subscription to the Consultant costs $490 for six issues, but this
special feature is available as a separate publication for $40 from:
Mccoy Associates, 13701 West Jewell Ave., Suite 252, Lakewood, Co
80228; phone (303) 987-0333.

[2] Greenpeace comments on EPA's April 17, 1990, proposed hazardous
waste incinerator regulations are available from: Joe Thornton,
Greenpeace, 1017 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Il 60607; (312) 666-

[3] Lewis and Kaltofen, "A White Paper on the Feasibility of
Alternatives to Incineration of Wastes at the Vertac Site in
Jacksonville, Arkansas," dated October 27, 1990; available from Sanford
Lewis, 42 Davis Rd., Suite 3b, Acton, Ma 01720; (508) 264-4060. Price

available from Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, P.O. Box
926, Arlington, Va 22201; (703) 276-7070. Prices unknown.

formal compilation of photocopied information titled, "Cement Kiln
Incineration of Hazardous Waste, Some Thoughts and Information" are
both available from EWK Consultants, 407 N St., NW, Washington, DC
20024; (202) 488-1015. Prices unknown.


The NEW YORK TIMES reported this week that McDonald's will abandon
styrofoam "clamshell" packaging for the burgers at their 8,000
restaurants. The TIMES reported that Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)
was responsible for changing McDonald's mind.

Unfortunately, the TIMES was entirely misinformed. The campaign to
change McDonald's mind was started by Theresa Freeman of Vermonters
Organized for Cleanup [(802) 476-7757] several years ago. Citizens
Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste (CCHW) helped spread the word. VOC
and CCHW built a campaign in 25 countries. McDonald's brought EDF in as
advisors only at the bitter end when the jig was up.

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: mcdonalds; styrofoam; cchw; waste treatment
technologies; chemical detoxification; pollution prevention; waste
reduction; william reilly; epa; mccoy and associates; greenpeace; nrdc;
edf; ntc; ed kleppinger;