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Incineration of Garbage and Other WastesIntroduction
Incineration or burning of garbage and other waste material is hazardous to the well being of Canadians. Nearly half of us will develop cancer in our lifetimes. About 75-80 percent of these cancers will be caused by our environment, i.e., the particles and chemicals that we breathe or otherwise come into contact with over the years. Diseases such as asthma and emphysema have historically been associated with the breathing fine particles. More recently to long term exposures to dioxins, furans, asbestos and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and arsenic have been shown to cause numerous cancers, heart disease and other insidious ailments.
Waste Incineration and Links to Cancer
Prevent Cancer Now, a national organization focused on eliminating the preventable causes of cancer cites the following:
Studies in the United Kingdom found an increased risk of childhood cancer, childhood leukemia and solid tumours of all kinds among children living near incinerators.
Studies from France, Japan, Italy, United Kingdom and Sweden found that populations living near incinerators had a cluster of soft-tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; a two-fold cancer-risk; increases in laryngeal cancer; increases in lung cancer or lung cancer mortality and generally higher risks of all cancers but specifically of stomach, colorectal, liver and lung cancer.
Incinerator workers in Italy, the U.S. and Sweden had significantly higher gastric cancer mortality and a high prevalence of hypertension and excessive deaths from lung cancer and heart disease.
Mass burn incinerators have been around for a very long time. Typically they force air into the fire to fully oxidize all the waste material. Modern incinerators, gasification, pyrolysis (starved air) and plasma arc technologies are touted as safer because they use very high temperatures to convert the waste into gas, liquid and solid residues. These gases, liquids or solids still contain toxic materials and must still be eliminated. Gasification incinerators typically burn the gas to generate electricity.
Modern incinerators are capable of reducing toxic air emissions, but these systems are expensive, consume valuable resources, and ultimately lead to increases in green house gas emissions. Toxic air emissions can never be reduced to zero, and the toxic ash and liquids from these incinerators are still hazardous requiring careful disposal.
Regulation and Monitoring of Toxins
Real-time and continuous monitoring technology is not available for many pollutants including some of the most dangerous, such as dioxins. For example, the trial burning of demolition and construction waste at the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper (HSPP) mill specified that only two dioxin samples per year were required for the trial monitoring regime. Dioxin emissions are not constant. They can vary drastically especially during start up and shut down operations. Relying on only two annual samples is totally inadequate.
As well, environmental standards and safe emission limits often are not specified by jurisdictions. In these cases standards from other jurisdictions may be used as guidelines. Because of these limitations, enforcement of emission violations becomes difficult or nonexistent. The BC Ministry of the Environment (MoE) currently uses some Washington State standards for the HSPP burning trial.
Green House Gas Emissions
At first glance, incineration of waste to generate electricity appears to be a win-win situation. Waste is disposed of, and electricity is generated as a by product. However, many researchers would argue with this simplistic view. It can be demonstrated that recycling of waste materials has the least impact on climate change compared to all other forms of waste disposal including incineration. Green house gas emissions are reduced because reusing materials avoids having to re-extract, reprocess and remanufacture these same materials.
Zero Waste Concepts
The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has stated the following with respect to Zero Waste concepts as an alternative to burning:
Zero Waste creates jobs and is good for the economy. For example, U.S. recycling and reuse establishments employ 1.1 million people and gross $236 billion in annual revenues. Designing more recyclable, reusable and repairable products means more jobs for a vital industry.
Zero Waste saves natural resources by reducing consumption and making new items from recycled materials. Ruining materials through thermal and combustion processes means more materials need to be extracted from the earth to replace those resources.
Zero Waste conserves energy through reducing demand for extraction and processing of raw materials, which is energy intensive. EPA analysis shows that recycling is more energy efficient than combustion.
Prevent Cancer Now sums up the use of burning to dispose of waste as follows:
All incinerators generate toxic emissions, including carcinogens, and are a leading source of dioxins globally. Since there are safer, more economical and flexible options, we should adopt the precautionary principle and move away from waste management options that pose a serious risk to human health and further degrade our environment.
Furthermore, the burning of waste destroys resources and locks communities into very expensive contracts, which require large and predictable volumes of garbage over long periods of time to recoup the large initial capital costs. Far more energy would be saved and fewer health and environmental impacts – including cancer – would result from reusing, recycling and composting materials. In a world of depleting resources it makes no sense to incinerate materials when safer options exist.
Most of the material used to prepare this position paper appears in a few documents located on the Prevent Cancer Now organization’s web site: http://preventcancernow.ca/
I have attached the references used by Prevent Cancer Now for added information.References:
1. Canadian Cancer Society/National Cancer Institute of Canada: Canadian Cancer Statistics 2008 2-3
April 2008, ISSN 0835-2976
2. Environmental and Heritable Factors in the Causation of Cancer –Analyses of Cohorts of Twins from
Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Original Article New England Journal of Medicine July 13, 2000 Vol.
3. American Cancer Society Cancer Facts and Figures 2006 P.22
4. The Health Effects of Waste Incinerators 4th Report of the British Society for Ecological Medicine.
Second Edition June 2008
5. Best Environmental Practices and Alternative Technologies for Medical Waste Management
Jorge Emmanuel, PhD. Health Care Without Harm, June 2007, Kasane, Botswana
Eighth International Waste Management Congress and Exhibition
6. Health Canada – Dioxins and Furans It’s Your Health
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/alt_formats/pacrb-dgapcr/pdf/iyh-vsv/environ/dioxin-eng.pdf (pdf document)
7.Canada-Wide Standards for Dioxins and Furans (2001)
8. CCME Review of Dioxins and Furans from Incineration in Support of a Canada-wide Standard Review
9. Plasma Arc Technology for Municipal Solid Waste: A Proven Technology or Incinerator in Disguise?
Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. March 2008
10. Incineration and Gasification: A Toxic Comparison. Blue Ridge Environmental Defence League. April
11. Gasification, Pyrolysis & Plasma Incineration Fact Sheet Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
12. Incineration and Human Health. State of Knowledge of the Impacts of Waste Incinerators on Human
Health Allsopp, M. Costner, P. and Johnston, P.
13. Generic Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment Study. Durham York Residual Waste Study
June 2007. Report No. 1009497.02
14. After Incineration: the Toxic Ash Problem. Petrlik, J. Ryder, R.A. April 2005 4,7-8.
15. Irish Doctors Environmental Association (IDEA) IDEA Position on Incineration
16 .The Health Effects of Waste Incinerators 4th Report of the British Society for Ecological Medicine, Dec. 2005
17. Waste Incineration: A Dying Technology. Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance July 2003.
18.Ontario Ministry of the Environment Guideline A-8 (2004)
19. Durham/York Residual Waste Study. Letter to Ontario Ministry of the Environment June 11, 2008.
20. GAIA Incinerators Trash Community Health June 2008
21 The Pembina Institute – 4 Incineration Fact Sheets: Impact on Global Warming, Pollution, A
Reasonable Energy Option and Understanding the Costs and Financial Risks