Health and environmental advocates rallied at Hartford City Hall Wednesday calling for a shutdown of the trash incinerator in the city’s South Meadows, charging that the facility contributes to a high childhood asthma rate, but a spokesman for the agency that runs the incinerator accused them of “needlessly scaring people.”
“Incineration is a major source of known toxins like mercury, nickel and dioxin-toxins associated with aggravating asthma, cancer, diabetes and other diseases,” Claire Miller of the Toxics Action Center said at the rally, which was organized by the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.
But Paul Nonnenmacher, director of public affairs for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which owns and operates the incinerator, disputed the claim.
“If they have the facts, then bring them out, but otherwise they’re just needlessly scaring people,” he said. “We’ve never seen any scientific evidence of any connection between what we do and asthma. If there is factual evidence of that, I would love for them to produce it to get a look at it.”
Wednesday’s rally was aimed at getting CRRA to shut down one of the incinerator’s three boilers by 2012 and eventually cease all trash incineration in the state.
Connecticut burns about 66 percent of its trash, more than 2,000 tons a day, at the Hartford incinerator, the fifth largest in the country. CCEJ leaders said the incineration contributes to Hartford’s 41 percent childhood asthma rate and too little is being done about it.
“If 41 percent of the community woke up blind, there would be a serious crisis,” said Cynthia Jennings, co-founder of the CCEJ.
While Connecticut relies heavily on incineration to dispose of trash, its recycling rate is only 24 percent, compared with 47 percent in neighboring Massachusetts.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Miller said. “We can reuse things instead of burning them.”
The CCEJ cited a report from the national Recycling Works Campaign that said nearly 90 percent of material destroyed in landfills and incinerators, such as paper, wood, food scraps and plastic, can be recycled or composted.
What the CCEJ calls trash burning, the CRRA classifies as refuse-derived fuel (RDF) trash-to-energy technology. Nonnenmacher said that the facility, in operation since 1988, takes 2,850 tons of trash a year, screens it for recyclable metals and elements that won’t burn, and shreds the rest as fuel to generate electricity. The trash comes from 70 of Connecticut’s towns.
Nonnenmacher said generating the amount of electricity CRRA produces would require 20.4 million gallons of oil, 1.9 million tons of coal or 25.5 million cubic feet of natural gas.
“You’re also saving all the greenhouse gases that are emitted by burning all that fossil fuel,” he said. “This is serving a multitude of purposes, reducing by 90% the volume of stuff that has to go into a landfill.”
Nonnenmacher said that for every 10 truckloads of trash entering the RDF facility, one truckload of ash comes out. He said shutting down one boiler of the incinerator would result in 250,000 tons of garbage per year with nowhere to go but landfills.
“Is that the best use of the land?” he said.
Jennings said the CCEJ delivered 500 petitions from city residents and businesses asking Mayor Pedro Segarra and the City Council to work with the CRRA to eliminate trash incineration.
Miller said the group hasn’t received any official support yet from elected officials.
“They support the idea of clean air, but I think they need more education about the issue,” she said.