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Toxic emissions double
Hamilton's aging waste incinerator worst in Canada in spewing deadly dioxins Exclusive

By Eric McGuinness
The Hamilton Spectator

Posted 10/15/2002

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 close.

Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, who represents the area, says it should be shut now for health, environmental and economic reasons.

"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," said Collins.

"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 of approval.

You can contact Eric McGuinness at or at 905-526-4650.

This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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