Powell River says no to garbage incinerator

Metro-Vancouver is looking for somewhere to burn its garbage.There is a proposal  to build an incinerator at Duke Point in Nanaimo.

In the summer of 2012 Powell River was approached to have a garbage incinerator built to burn Metro Vancouver’s garbage. Their community mobilized and said no.  One of the residents, scientist Mark Biagi, gave a presentation about the disadvantages to the proposal to have the incinerator at the old mill site on the waterfront in Powell River.  The following are some highlights from Mr. Biagi’s presentation.

“I have  worked for 30 years in hazardous waste management, 15 years at the Sydney Tar Ponds [the site of the former steel plant] where they wanted to build two incinerators to burn toxic waste left behind by the old mill, and both were turned down.

The language they [incinerator companies] use is carefully selected. Terms are used such as ‘waste to energy’ or ‘gasification’ —they do not use the term  ‘burning garbage’.

Studies show that  incinerator energy creates more pollution than coal-fired power plants. Read the article published by Fuel Fix, Oct 13, 2011 from Baltimore.

What people will see is barge after barge loaded with garbage coming up the coast to be burned, not a pretty site for tourists.  They plan on shipping 500,000 tons to start but you know it will increase from there.

Barge full of garbage
Barge full of garbage – How many of these would be needed to fuel the incinerator?

They say that the garbage would be all post-recycling material but in reality they only would only recycle metal. They would be burning paper, plastic, glass, batteries, and food waste.

More than 90% of materials currently disposed of in landfills and incinerators  can be reused, recycled, and composted. To demonstrate this we took ten random bags of garbage and sorted and separated the material. We were able to sort 90% of the material for recycling. The only thing we couldn’t recycle were dirty diapers.

Incineration creates a demand for ‘waste’. The fuel they run on is garbage. They don’t want recycling because it eats up their fuel. It is proven that wherever you have incinerators you have a decrease in recycling.

They claim that incinerators are safe and modern. Even the most technologically advanced incinerators release thousands of pollutants that contaminate our air, soil, water and most importantly our food.

Pollutants such as furans and dioxins and heavy metals enter the food supply and concentrate up through the food chain. There are many other toxic gases that are emitted but because of time constrants in this presentation I will deal with that another time.

They will tell you that we burn this stuff at very high temperatures and everything is destroyed. The boilers go up to 1000C.  The heat destroys the molecular structures and as the burning particles fly away they continue to burn at lower levels of heat, so not everything is burned at 1000C.

The furans and dioxins that escape do not like water but they do like fatty tissue. So for example if it lands on your skin it will disolve on your skin. It will then accumulate in your body. Dioxins and furans are some of the most poisonious chemicals known to science. They are persistant and do not break down. There is no biological material that can break them down. Men have a problem, unlike women, they do not get pregnant and have children where those chemicals can leave the body through the baby.

One litre of milk supplies the same amount of dioxins as 8 months of breathing the same air as a cow. In 2010, a Chinese study found that mixed solid waste incinerators are important sources of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds. They have already taken steps to shut down these incinerators which are quite modern.

Barbershop No Incinerator sign
Political barbershop in Ireland – No Incinerator sign – concern that the toxins concentrate in the brain and elevated cases of asthma and lung disease

Japan has the highest concentration of incinerators in the world.  They have no space for landfills. They have very high levels of dioxins that they accept. In May 2011, the Setegaya gasification plant in Tokyo, Japan was shut down because of the very high level of dioxins detected. The concentration of dioxins in the working area was 5 to 6 times more than usual. We are talking about a modern incinerator which was top of the line.

Garbage incinerators generate heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead. Cadmium and mercury accumulate in the body. They are neurotoxins that poison the brain and the nervous system. The result is permanent health problems such as motor and behavioural disorders. There are links to kidney disease, lung cancer. We know that cadmium affects the endocrine and immune system. Our bodies will be less able to protect us from diseases that are coming on to us as a result of exposure.

All these new filters and technologies at present do not eliminate the release of toxins. They are trying to tell the public ‘everything is screened out’. They know that it will be difficult to prove that people are getting sick in the area from the release of toxins and will just say people are exposed to many other factors.

Everywhere in the world the fly ash from incinerators is regulated as a hazardous waste. For every four tons of garbage burned there is one ton of hazardous waste ash produced.

They still have to landfill this hazardous waste. These sites leak and will contaminate our drinking water; it has happened before and will happen again.

The filters at these incinerators do not prevent the escape of many hazardous emissions such as ultra-fine or nanoparticles.  How small are these nanoparticles? If you take a drop of water and you divide that into 20 equal parts and then take one of those parts and drop it into a volume of water equivalent to an Olympic sized swimming pool that is one part per trillion.

These hazardous materials are hazardous to humans in 10 to 20 parts per trillion that we can identify. Now scientists are looking at toxicity in the parts per quadrillion. So when we breathe these nanoparticles in we are breathing them into the deepest part of our lungs and they then pass through to our blood stream.  Then these particles like to go to the fatty areas and that happens to be for most people their brains, because it is mostly fat.

Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, St. Lawrence University is highly trained in toxicology and speaks reqularly on the problems with burning garbage. He is very concerned about the elevated levels of asthma and lung issues related to incinerators.

Nanoparticles from incinerators contain: neurotoxic metals, stablized free radicals, thousands of newly synthesized compounds which include PCBs, dioxins, and furans.  Any toxic element used in commerce has the potential to end up in nanaoparticles produced by incinerators.

Free radicals attack your tissue and cause a host of degenerative diseases. These incinerators will overwhelm our bodies’ defences.

What about producing electricity? The truth is Incinerators are a massive waste of energy. You save more by recycing the materials.

MaterialEnergy Savings
from Recycling
Energy Output
from Incineration (GJ/Tonne)
Fine Paper15.872.23
Other paper9.492.25
High-density polyethylene (HDPE)64.276.30
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)85.163.22
Other plastic52.094.76

Good for the economy? Incinerators are not good for the economy; they do not provide jobs for communities. On the contrary they have negative impacts on tourism, and immigration. These companies demand tax breaks from local governments.  To date 29 municipalities have gone bankrupt because of these garbage burning facilities.

The Burnaby incinerator only has 4 full time jobs the rest of the jobs are part time.  The cost of running incinerators are very expensive, it all comes down on the taxpayers, first to build and then to clean up the mess.

Incinerators and Food Production

It is not recommend to have food production crops within 50 to 80 km of radius of these incinerators. That will affect Comox Valley and all the shell fish growers.


Who is Wheelabrator? They are an American multinational subsidiary of Waste Management Technologies in partnership with a Spanish company called Urbaser. All three have a long list of complaints of corruption and environmental violations. Here a few examples:

Waste Management dumpster – garbage disposal is run by few companies

January 4, 2011 in the Boston Globe: ‘One of Wheelabrators top modern incinerators facing lawsuit.’ The employees lawsuit alleges that Wheelabrator “knowingly, illegally, secretly, and systematically” allowed toxic pollutants such as mercury and lead, contained in the ash produced by waste incineration, to enter the environment. It describes a series of alleged lapses at the plant, including a failure to use adequte amounts of lime to neutralize the toxicity of the ash; inoperable equipment that was supposed to help control air pollution; and a failure to treat runoff from the landfill on the property before discharging it into the Lynn sewer system.

They ended up settling this case for 7.5 million out of court. There are 522 various lawsuits against Wheelabrator in the US.

One of the incinerators received and burned 187 million gallons of residual oil in 2.5 years. They had over 1500 violations of the clean air regulations in the US.

What about Urbaser? More problems: …Bosco’s garbage politics start to hurt his backers in Panama… alleged foul play in the contract that the city had made with a Spanish company, Urbaser Plotasa, to take over management of the Cerro Patacon dump and set up recycling opertions there…

A corruption scandal surrounds the Cartagena garbage collection contract…accusations of corruption were flying around the city after the companies Urbaser and Asecar were awarded the $125 million dollar contract, despite the fact that the former gained the lowest rating from the evaluation committee and the same committee had disqualified the latter firm…. money talks..they bought them out…

Urbaser in France: Canopia Byonne: …Three weeks ago as revealed by the Canard Enchaine in its November 16th  issue, Urbaser also became a subject of investigation in a corruption affair in the Rhone Delta district. On September 8th the district’s chairman Jean-Noel Guerini was charged with “illegal taking of bribes, undue influence and criminal conspiracy” in connection with suspected fraud in government contracts…this is ongoing…

What about Waste Management Technologies, the parent company of Wheelabrator? More problems: … John Horak, former manager of a Waste Management subsidary was fined $25,000 and jailed for six months for bribing municpal officals in Fox Lake, a Chicago suburb. Under oath Mr. Horak said the bribe was approved by James deBoer, president of Waste Management of Illinois, who is now himself under investigation…

2001.. ..Connecticut Attorney General’s Office press release 7th November 2001: Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Connecticut Treasurer Denise L. Nappier today announced a $457 million dollar settlement in a securities fraud case, the third largest securities class action settlement in the US history. The Connecticut Treasury is lead plaintiff in the class action suit against Houston based Waste Management, Inc…

The life span of these incinerators is about 50 years, they [incinerator companies] stand to gain about $3 billion dollars. There is a lot at stake.

Take action:
Don’t sit around, take action now, sign a petition or email your comment to mayor&council@nanaimo.ca in Nanaimo or send an email to Metro-Vancouver’s waste to energy committee NWTE@metrovancouver.org.