Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#75 - Announcing New Weekly Source Of Information For Waste Activists, 01-May-1988

The grass roots environmental movement has just gained an excellent new
source of information on incinerators, landfills, and recycling: WASTE
NOT, a weekly publication of Work on Waste USA, Inc., edited by Ellen
and Paul Connett.

Waste Not discusses technical issues in language anyone can understand.
It also announces new reports as they appear. For example, people
concerned about incinerator ash and landfill problems will want to know
Denison, Environmental Defense Fund, 1616 P Street, NW, Washington, DC
20036; phone (202) 387-3500. And: "INCINERATOR ASH ALERT" from New York
Public Interest Research Group, 9 Murray Street, NY, NY 10007; phone
INCINERATOR ASH." Available from Ben Gordon, 1017 West Jackson,
Chicago, IL 60667; phone (312) 666-3305.

Because Paul Connett is a chemistry professor, WASTE NOT gives insight
into solid waste that you cannot find anywhere else. For example, WASTE
NOT #3 gives information about the chemistry of landfill ash-
information that can help citizens see through false arguments by the
federal EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). The ash issue is
crucial to the future of incinerators.

Today Americans produce about 160 million tons of MSW each year. About
15 million tons of this (9%) are currently incinerated in about 140
incinerators and these incinerators produce about 4 million tons of ash
annually. By the year 2000, Americans will be producing 190 million
tons of MSW, available landfill space will have diminished (because old
landfills are filling up, and new ones can't be sited because the
public now knows that landfills leak and pollute drinking water), the
cost of landfilling municipal solid waste (MSW) will have increased
greatly--and so, according to EPA, several hundred new MSW incinerators
will be needed. Incinerators reduce the volume of garbage that has to
be dumped.

Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that MSW ash is more
toxic than the garbage from which it was derived. Incinerators reduce
the volume, but they increase the hazards. Heating garbage in an
incinerator does two things to increase the hazards: it concentrates
the toxic metals, and it produces new chemicals that weren't in the
garbage to begin with (or were there, but in smaller amounts). Dioxins
and furans are examples of chemicals created inside an incinerator.

In the late 1970s, the EPA developed a test for deciding whether a
particular waste is toxic or not. It is called the "Extraction
Procedure Toxicity Test" or "EP Tox Test" for short. The test is
simple: slightly acid water (intended to simulate natural rain water)
is poured onto the waste; water that trickles through the waste (called
leachate) is tested to see what it contains. If it contains any
chemicals covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA, a federal law)
in amounts 100 times higher than the permissible drinking levels
established in the SDWA law, then that waste is declared officially
toxic and must be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill, not an
ordinary landfill. Disposal in a hazardous waste landfill is very

For years, people have been dumping MSW ash into ordinary landfills
without doing the EP tox test. However during the last two years, the
Environmental Defense Fund and others have gathered evidence that about
30% of all MSW ash cannot pass an EP tox test. This means that about
1/3 of all MSW ash should be disposed of in hazardous waste landfills
at great expense. If MSW ash has to be disposed of as a hazardous
waste, the economics of municipal incineration cease to make sense.
Since banks and waste companies like Waste Management, Inc., have
billions of dollars at stake in the move toward MSW incinerators, the
toxicity of MSW ash is a tremendously important political issue.

The EPA is in a bind. Their job is to protect the natural environment,
yet EPA is an executive agency run by political appointees. Clearly, it
is in the interests of politicians everywhere to push ahead with solid
waste incinerators. The companies that get the huge contracts to build
and operate such incinerators will make campaign contributions and
cooperate with local officials in other important ways.

Furthermore, if incinerating MSW becomes too expensive, and if landfill
space runs out because people won't allow siting of new landfills in
their backyard for fear of being poisoned, then there will be no choice
left: we will have to begin to look at the individual items in
municipal garbage and stop manufacturers from using the most toxic
chemicals. Such meddling in industrial decision-making is the last
thing this government wants to start.

For these reasons, the EPA needs MSW ash to appear to be non-toxic so
that the economics of municipal incineration will continue to be
accepted by taxpayers.

Thus EPA administrator Lee Thomas, President Reagan's man at EPA, needs
to have us believe that the EP tox test makes MSW ash look worse than
it really is. Mr. Thomas testified before Congress April 13 that the EP
tox test "may overestimate the amount of metals" that would actually
leach out of MSW ash under real landfill conditions. Mr. Thomas argues
that the EP tox test simulates acid conditions in a garbage landfill,
but that ash in a landfill all by itself, not mixed with garbage, would
not be in an acid environment and therefore would not release metals as
much as the EP tox test indicates.

In WASTE NOT #3, Paul and Ellen Connett give evidence that reveals the
fraudulent nature of the EPA's argument. They cite two studies showing
that MSW ash is so alkaline (from the limestone added to the pollution
scrubbing system) that normal water leaches out more metals than does
acid water. In other words, the Connetts give chemical evidence that
the EPA's EP tox test doesn't overestimate the hazards of MSW ash, it
underestimates those hazards.

When the EPA sets out to prove a point for political purposes, science
takes a back seat. Without people on our side who know chemistry, where
would we be? Misled by our government but unable to understand how.
Hats off to Paul and Ellen Connett and their new publication, WASTE
NOT. Subscribe! It's $25/yr from Work on Waste USA, 82 Judson St.,
Canton, NY 13617; phone (315) 379-9200. (If you can, send an extra $50--
help them expand.)

--Peter Montague


Descriptor terms: information services; incineration; landfilling;
recycling; waste not; work on waste usa; ellen connett; paul connett;
ash; particulates; richard denison; edf; dioxin; ben gordon; epa; msw;
drinking water; water pollution; groundwater; toxicity; pcdfs; ep
toxicity test; leachate; legislation; enforcement; sdwa; edf; wmi; epa;
corruption; politicians; lee thomas; ronald reagan;

Error. Page cannot be displayed. Please contact your service provider for more details. (28)