MSW Management

Covanta Response

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In my last blog, I wrote about an article from The Guardian that reported on the effects the China Waste Ban was having on the town of Chester, PA. In its report, a finger was pointed at a Covanta incinerator as the source of increasing air quality concerns. Covanta has responded to The Guardian’s article.

A Message From Covanta:

In response to the recent article from The Guardian article by Oliver Milman,“’Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports,” Covanta wants to make clear that our facility in Chester, PA, operates in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment. Processing of recyclable material at the Delaware Valley Energy-from-Waste facility has not impacted environmental performance and our ability to comply with our strict air permits. We strongly believe that source separated material should be recycled and look forward to seeing reestablished recycling programs in the near future.

Covanta has been and continues to be committed to being a good neighbor to Chester. That commitment has never wavered and we are disheartened to see so many fallacies perpetuated in a recent article in The Guardian.

We care about the communities where we operate and have voluntarily gone well beyond already strict emissions limits to ensure the safety of the communities in which our employees live and work. After passing through our state-of-the-art emissions control system, over 99.9% of what comes out of the stack is what you’d typically find in air—water vapor, nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. The remaining emitted constituents—see table below—are well below allowable limits set by State and Federal regulators that have demonstrated protection of human health and the environment

Processing of recyclable material at the Delaware Valley facility has not impacted environmental performance and our ability to comply with our strict air permits. In fact, there has always been unrecyclable plastic material in the waste stream and the facility has been able to safely process that material for energy recovery. However, we strongly believe that source separated material should be recycled and look forward to seeing reestablished recycling programs in the near future.

Unfortunately, The Guardian article quotes advocates with an agenda and does not validate or provide any contextual information on overall health issues in the City of Chester and the major contributing health risks to those health issues. The article also references a study from 1995 that did not use the actual emissions measurements of the facility but “projected” data. Nonetheless, in that very same study, the facility, under a different company’s ownership at the time, was not listed among those found to be contributing to long-term cancer risks. Study after study have shown that living near an Energy-from-Waste facility does not have adverse impacts on health.

Third-Party Health Studies

A recent review of air quality health risk assessments and health surveillance programs surrounding WTE facilities done for Portland, OR determined that there was not a predictive or actual increase in health issues, including for those in vulnerable or sensitive “at-risk” populations such as children or the elderly. (Link)

A 2019 UK study found no evidence that exposure to, and living near, a modern EfW facility in compliance with current standards was associated with any excess risk of adverse birth outcomes. (Link)

Public Health England found negative health impacts associated with well-regulated EfW facilities likely to be very small, if even detectable. (Link)

Long-term biomonitoring near three Dutch EfW facilities found “no potential risk with respect to human consumption quality of the investigated crops and products in the vicinity.” (Link)

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health found prevalence of childhood asthma in the Merrimack Valley—where several EfW facilities are located—was not associated with emissions of particulate matter (PM10) or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the local stationary sources (Link)

Covanta Delaware Valley Emissions in Comparison to Permit Limits

Community Programs

Since becoming the operator of the Delaware Valley facility we have supported a range of programs in Chester—everything from providing students healthy breakfasts, establishing apprenticeship programs for local residents, contributing to community beautification through the recent founding of Keep Chester Beautiful, and even supporting diabetes education and screening. We also provide a significant source of revenue to the City that helps ensure the continuation of essential services. MSW_bug_web

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  1. This is a well written response that addresses many of the key issues, but the impressive table of statistics is irrelevant because it reports average emission levels over a three year time frame. The real question is whether the emissions levels (particularly for Dioxins and Furans) exceed the permitted levels for any 24 hour time period since these would represent events that could potentially pose significant health risks to the local area. Nevertheless, I still believe that WTE facilities are an important element of our integrated MSW strategy and I am confident that they can perform safely without undue harm to the either the local population or environment when managed correctly.

  2. Nice professional response. You earned your salary. But, it addresses AIR QUALITY only. What about the ASH?? What about the residue from the air cleansing operations? Where does it go? To a landfill? How long before it seeps into the water table? 20, 30, 50 years? Or to the municipal stormwater/sewer plant? Where does it discharge?

    It will all enter the water table or our water bodies, just a matter of when.

    Air quality is only one concern from this operation. Did The Guardian not address this aspect?

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