The literature has reported that the debate over the use of waste incinerators in favor of landfill continues. Incinerators result in toxic air emissions and toxic ash. It is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that 80% of the dioxin found in the United States is due to municipal and medical waste incinerator air emissions…
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These ash landfills must be monitored continuously since the toxins in them are not biodegradable and they never become non-toxic. Due to these concerns and the Clean Air Act, many incinerators have been shut down (Toxic Alert, 2002).
Detroit began the building of the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Incinerator in 1986. It is the largest incinerator of any municipality found in the U.S. It is legally allowed to release over 25 tons of hazardous air pollutants and over 1,800 tons of additional pollutants yearly, to include lead, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter. Detroit inhabitants are reported to have higher incidence of health concerns compared to other areas. Detroit children (40%) located near the city center and the area containing the incinerator, have elevated blood lead levels. Detroit has among the highest asthma rates in the countries which is three times that of the national average. The city has the third largest asthma-related death incidence. The city will spend million to burn and landfill 600,000 tons of trash. It is reported that the use of landfill disposal as an alternative would save the city million per year; the addition of a recycling program would result in savings of million per year. It is also reported that access to public documents regarding incinerator operation is difficult (Ecology Center, 2002).
Thus the Detroit incinerator releases toxic metals, acid gasses, hazardous chemical compounds such as mercury and dioxins. It contributes to 20% of the nation's mercury emissions and is the main source of dioxin and other toxins. Mercury results in brain damage, birth defects, and neurological damage in infants. Dioxins cause cancer, hormone disruptions, and are associated with endometriosis, diabetes, asthma, and low sperm counts. Detroit citizens are paying five times more for this incinerator than communities who utilize recycling and landfills (Ecology Center, 2002).
Since others have determined that landfills and recycling may offer safer methods of disposing of waste, compared to incinerators, it appears that further study of these variables is warranted. In addition, Strzelecki (2001) reported that new technologies have resulted in 99.9% efficiency with regard to incineration, which implies that this factor must also be considered.
Although the majority of scientific evidence suggests that atmospheric emissions from WTE are not severe when compared to other commonly accepted health and environmental risks, some environmental groups warn that WTE can pose problems if technology is not used properly. Studies have shown, for example, that furan and dioxin production can increase when incineration temperatures are not maintained at design specifications. Concern was also raised during the 1980s that some U.S. WTE operators may not be trained properly to monitor and minimize emission levels. Others warn that WTE is not appropriate for the entire municipal waste stream. Incineration remained ill-suited to manage the municipal waste stream in its entirety as far as the targeted removal of critical items were concerned as it could increase the
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