HERC is No. 1! in arsenic emissions

CO2-emissionsBY LARA NORKUS-CRAMPTON

According to the Energy Justice Network’s (EJN) analysis of the most recent 2011 National Emissions Inventory (NEI) data self-reported to the EPA by the garbage incinerator industry,
HERC is:
#1 in arsenic emissions (31% of the emissions from 65 incinerators reporting)
#2 in chromium VI emissions (19% of the emissions from 62 reporting)
#2 in chromium III emissions (23% of the emissions from 56 reporting)
#3 in nickel emissions (11% of the emissions from 64 reporting)
#5 in condensable particulate matter.
Mike Ewall, director of EJN, concluded, “These high rankings for toxic emissions are significant because HERC ranks as the 38th largest incinerator in the U.S.  They report 1.5 million pounds of emissions for 2011. This is a very dirty incinerator.”
Some might recall that South Minneapolis has a history of arsenic soil contamination related to another former local polluter and severe enough that the impacted area was declared the South Minneapolis Neighborhood Soil Contamination Superfund Site.  Remediation included the removal of approximately 62,000 cubic yards of soil from impacted residences, according to the CDC.
According to EJN analysis of point sources of emissions (from a single location) in Hennepin County summarized in the latest National Emissions Inventory, Ewall ranks HERC as the No. 1 source of Condensable Particulate Matter (PM), the No. 2 source of Primary PM 2.5, and the No. 3 source of Primary PM 10 in Hennepin County.
In 2013 the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported to the legislature that PM2.5 emissions from Minnesota sources of pollution caused 1,000 deaths in the metro area annually, 220 respiratory ER visits, 460 non-fatal heart attacks and 78,000 work loss days valued at $13 million. This is just one type of pollution impacting the metro region.
The EJN analysis of NEI data showed the Burner also ranked as the No. 2 point source in all of Hennepin County for arsenic and cadmium, and No. 3 for nickel—all toxins or heavy metals or both.  HERC was ranked second only to the Mpls/St Paul Airport as the main point source for nitrogen oxide.
This 2011 nitrogen oxide ranking, given the higher concentration of non-white people within two miles of HERC reported in the last issue of Southside Pride (https://southsidepride.com/incinerator-pr-campaign-to-keep-trashing-minneapolis-since-we-dont-know-all-we-can-do-is-ask/), is consistent with the 2014 University of Minnesota study ranking the state of Minnesota as having the 15th highest discrepancy in the U.S. for nitrogen oxide (NOx) exposure gaps between whites and non-whites, citing garbage incinerators as one typical source.
http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/04/15/air-pollution-disparities
This study concluded that 7,000 deaths a year could be avoided in the U.S. if people of color breathed the lower levels of NOx that white people breathe.
These kinds of harmful emissions are why so many communities have rightly challenged new incinerator proposals, contrary to what media outlets like Politico have stated.  Many other communities besides Minneapolis have questioned the wisdom of paying millions of dollars to turn recyclable and compostable materials into toxic emissions and toxic ash that go to a landfill.
In a recent JP Morgan Chase- sponsored Politico article, “Minneapolis Gets Trashed,” the author called HERC a “Vanguard” in the “quiet resurrection” of incineration. The data tracked by Ewall paint a very different picture.  Of “the currently operating commercial-scale trash incinerators in the U.S., the last one to be built at a new site came online in 1995.  From 1995 until now … 74 U.S. incinerators have closed, shutting down nearly 21,000 tpd [tons per day] of capacity … One compilation shows that 280 incinerator proposals were defeated in the decade between 1985 and 1994, and that trend has continued to this day, with several proposals defeated just last year … At the industry’s peak in 1991, there were 187 commercial trash incinerators in the U.S.  There are now about 80, with two more looking to close in the next year.”
Not exactly a renaissance! Perhaps more like wishful thinking by vested interests to continue to promote and invest in the seemingly medieval practice of burning trash for cash?  A few large corporations like Covanta may benefit.  But at whose expense?
This final quote from a Hamline University Law Journal that explored the torturous political path of the original HERC Garbage Burner approval back in 1986 may be instructive:
“Perhaps 10 years from now garbage incineration will be added to the list of things which were promoted by government and industry, supported by industry-sponsored scientists, yet opposed by a minority of scientists and lay environmentalists. This list includes such examples as the Dalkon Shield, PCBs, DDT, herbicides such as 2-4-5-T, 2-4-D and Agent Orange, lead in gas and paint, asbestos, and many other less celebrated examples …
“Unfortunately, it seems that often science fully discovers the environmental consequences of a particular industry many years after fortunes and powerful egos are already deeply invested in the industry.”
–Page 25, HAMLINE JOURNAL OF PUBLIC LAW AND POLICY, VOLUME 9, SPRING 1988, #1, reviewing the science and politics around the original HERC approval.
Now that it’s almost 30 years later—let’s make sure the City Council and Hennepin County end this reign of the Burner promoters when the current contract ends in 2018. There have been enough public dollars spent on reinvestment in HERC in an attempt to make burning garbage look like a good deal.
Instead, we need real dollars spent on Zero Waste solutions to protect the public health and the environment, manage reusable resources in a responsible and ethical way, and bring Minneapolis firmly into the 21st century.  It is critical that we push our Council members and county commissioners to refuse to renew any contracts or permits that would allow the Burner to operate beyond the current expiration date of 2018.

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