We have a big and growing problem, garbage. The Stafford Incinerator is proposed by the R-Board as “the best solution to get rid of waste”. However, incineration never achieves that goal, and causes significant health and environmental problems. Incineration only reduces waste volume, converting it into other forms, i.e., gases, ash, and dust particles. Waste converted to these new forms still contains pollutants that are harmful to our health like dioxins, PCBs, and heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium, only these are now in a very highly concentrated form. Toxic substances in our waste do not go away. All of these pollutants are persistent, most can accumulate in the tissues of living things, and all are very toxic. That is precisely why they are regulated.
So even after incineration, we still have a garbage problem. What happens to these new forms of garbage? The ash is sold to manufacturers and added to other products we buy, like cement between the bricks of your home, or on your patio, or somewhere else at your home, or yes, dumped into the landfill. It can also be added into cement-based products, such as some waterproofing/sealing products, rubber cements, and cement-based composites like siding. If you want to know more about ‘Cement-based products’, look it up and see all the products it covers. The problem is, these products degrade over time, releasing the toxins. Ever see your cement patio start to break up into fine particles? Now you can think about what is in those small particles.
And that leftover dust and gas? We breathe that in. Emissions from incinerators include Dioxins and PCBs which can have severe health effects, especially on the elderly, the developing fetus, and young children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), known health effects include: cancer; impairment of the immune, hormonal, and reproductive systems; congenital abnormalities; delayed cognitive and motor development in children; and disruption of critical stages of embryonic development. The greatest risk of exposure to dioxin is through food. Airborne dioxin, and other nastiness from incinerator emissions, eventually settle on soil, on vegetation, on water supplies, and on the oceans, and thus enters the food chain and our bodies.
Industry states that they’re working hard to improve incinerator technology to reduce those hazardous emissions; they are trying, but they are also making claims motivated by profits, not health, and certainly not the environment. This creates yet another problem. Reducing hazardous substances emitted into the air leaves those same hazardous substances behind in the incinerator and incinerator air-scrubber bags, in the form of highly concentrated ash. When you think of ash, think of the Dan River. This ash has to be dealt with, and if it is sent to landfills, it becomes a toxic, concentrated time bomb for future generations.
What can we do? Reduce your garbage footprint.
- Reuse everything you can before assuming it’s garbage.
- Recycle everything you can.
- Don’t buy products that are packaged in ways that they cannot be recycled or reused.
- Compost plants and vegetables (leaves, grass clippings, left-over vegetables, etc.), thereby providing your plants with ground cover that retains moisture and gives them some much needed nutrients. It is so sad to see people buy bags of mulch, dump the mulch around their plants, and then fill up the bags with leaves they raked up to send to the dump.
What can Stafford County Officials do? In addition to encouraging all of the above, County Officials can do what many localities do:
- Waste Compaction. Like incineration, Waste Compaction reduces waste volume to a more manageable size, but it does not add to our problem by introducing toxic ash, gases, or dust to our environment and our bodies.
- Issue local ordinances and policies that do not allow products to be packaged in ways that cannot be reused or recycled whenever possible. For example, plastic water bottles can be replaced with recyclable water bottles (San Francisco just passed a law outlawing non-recyclable water bottles); plastic bags can be forbidden or a fee charged for each bag used, replacing them with reusable cloth bags.
- Have residents pre-sort their garbage to facilitate its disposal (the City of Fredericksburg just set up a test program to do that).
- Encourage composting (New York City recently expanded its program to encourage composting food waste). Another solution: rescue a dog from the pound and you’ll never have leftovers!
- Charge waste haulers appropriate fees to bring garbage into the landfill that actually cover costs, instead of subsidizing their operations.
- Charge a fee and issue decals to residents so that garbage from outside our jurisdiction doesn’t find its way into our landfill, for free.
- Provide the public with information regarding composting, recycling, reuse.
- Most importantly, County officials must take the lead in encouraging the reduction of garbage, instead of propagating policies that cause harm to our health and environment.
- Particulate matter air pollution: how it harms health. Berlin/Copenhagen/Rome, World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, 2005 (Fact Sheet EURO/04/05). http://www.euro.who.int/document/mediacentre/fs0405e.pdf
- World Health Organization (WHO): Dioxins and their effects on human health Fact sheet, May 2010, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/
- How Pollutants Affect Health – Early Dioxin Exposure in Children, Gavin Tusscher, http://www.cleanmed.org/europe/2004/english/download/gavin_tusscher/gt1.html