Hamilton's aging waste incinerator
worst in Canada in spewing deadly dioxins Exclusive
By Eric McGuinness
The Hamilton Spectator
Airborne emissions of suspected cancer-causing dioxins and
furans from Hamilton's aging waste incinerator have almost
doubled in one year, making the plant Canada's single-largest
source of the toxic compounds.
It outranks all other incinerators in the country, as well
as metal smelters, electric-arc steelmaking furnaces and
Stelco's Hilton Works sinter plant, also located in the
northeastern part of the city.
While emissions from the sinter plant are down to less than
a third of their 1999 level, SWARU's are four times higher
than they were that year.
Almost as troubling, a Spectator examination of preliminary
2001 data from Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release
Inventory (NPRI) shows highly toxic mercury emissions from
SWARU tripled in a year while those of hazardous hexachlorobenzene
jumped 44 per cent.
Coincidentally, just as those numbers became available,
the Ontario Environment Ministry yesterday issued SWARU
a tougher, new operating licence that will apply until Dec.
31, 2006 when the 30-year-old Kenora Avenue plant is to
Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, who represents the area,
says it should be shut now for health, environmental and
"It's time to say let's close the facility rather than put
any more Band-Aids on it."
The city plans to stop burning garbage in 2006 because SWARU
won't be able to meet Canada-wide standards for dioxin and
furan releases going into effect in 2007.
The NPRI data are based on measurements of what goes up
the stack, while the province has until now regulated only
the amount calculated to reach the ground in the immediate
area, the so-called point of impingement.
Waste management director Scott Stewart and city consultant
John Chandler say last year's NPRI data may be flawed because
the plant wasn't operating well the day it was tested, but
emissions were still less than 25 per cent of the limit
at point of impingement, and therefore not a health hazard
in their view.
The chair of Clean Air Hamilton, McMaster University chemistry
professor Brian McCarry, says: "The city has to take some
responsibility for putting itself in the position of being
the No. 1 dioxin producer in the country. The top of that
hit parade is not a good place to be."
Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton,
fears something is going badly wrong at the plant, exposing
east-end residents to dangerous chemical vapours and dust.
SWARU's new licence -- officially a certificate of approval
-- replaces three that Lukasik and environmental lawyer
Paul Muldoon challenged as inadequate, using provisions
of Ontario's Environmental Bill of Rights. Their application
led to a two-year review that culminated in yesterday's
issuance of a single, comprehensive, new certificate.
It sets a stack-emission limit for dioxins and furans close
to the level SWARU achieved in 1999, about one-fifth the
level measured last year. It also calls for new noise silencers
and an independent technical review of plant operations.
Stewart says he and his staff are reviewing the document
clause by clause before deciding whether to recommend the
city appeal. He also says the city might have to close SWARU
sooner than 2006 if it would cost too much to comply.
There is already a plan to install a $200,000 system to
inject powdered carbon into the stack to capture more hazardous
substances. Buying carbon would cost $700,000 a year.
Collins says he and other councillors on a waste management
steering committee have asked Stewart to report by December
on implications of an early closure.
"It's like an old car when the oil is leaking, the air conditioning
doesn't work and you say it's not worth repairing any more,"
"Closing it would have an impact on the landfill, but with
recycling and more waste diversion, I think it's do-able."
Canadian Waste Services runs SWARU for the city under a
contract requiring it to comply with the provincial certificate
You can contact Eric McGuinness at email@example.com
or at 905-526-4650.
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