Sierra Club: Iodine Release from Newark Incinerator a Public Health Concern

Iodine Release from Newark Incinerator a Public Health Concern


Covanta, owners of the incinerator in the Ironbound section of Newark, released iodine into the air this week. Pink smoke wafting from the plant’s smokestack raised public concerns about what was being burned at the facility. A Covanta spokesman said the discoloration resulted from iodine that had been improperly discarded in other waste.

“Newark’s Covanta incinerator released dangerous iodine into the air this week. We only know that because the iodine turned smoke coming out its smokestack pink, and the public noticed. The question now is where that iodine came from, and whether Covanta is burning medical waste and releasing other toxic chemicals as well. DEP needs to investigate the iodine release to find out what happened, and whether Covanta violated its Air and Solid Waste permits. Communities are already suffering too much from the pollution these incinerators spew out,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Covanta said that even small amounts of iodine can create the pink color. The company said the release of iodine does not represent a public health threat. The incinerator is a waste-to-energy plant that burns waste from all 22 municipalities in Essex County and provides power for 45,000 homes.

“Covanta says it’s no big deal, but the fact that iodine is being released into the air only underscores the public health dangers of incinerators. Exposure to iodine vapors can cause sore throats, headaches, chest tightness and buildup of fluid in glands. The vapors can restrict pulmonary flow and increase impacts on people with respiratory illnesses and heart disease. We need to know not only why the iodine was burned, but what other toxic chemicals may be getting released that we don’t know about. DEP doesn’t just need to investigate the iodine release, but also monitor the air quality near the incinerator and potential impacts on the community,” said Tittel.

Garbage incinerators are large emitters of air pollutants with some studies showing that they emit several pollutants at a rate exceeding that of fossil fuel power plants. Stack emissions include a variety of pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), dioxins, nanoparticles, lead and mercury.

“All across the country incinerators have been dumped into low-income and minority communities. A recent study showed that nationally, 80% of the incinerators are in EJ communities. In New Jersey, that figure is 100% for our 4 incinerators in Newark, Camden, Rahway and Westville. The Newark incinerator emits the greatest amount of lead in the country. Incinerators are poisoning families and children who live near these facilities. The lead is not only in the air, but in the soil and ground children play on. On top of that, particular matter, toxic ash, cyanide, and more are coming out of the incinerators. These harmful chemicals have already caused health problems such as heart diseases, increased asthma rates, and elevated blood levels,” said Tittel.

The Covanta Camden Energy Recovery Center in New Jersey has received 5 violations for and paid 4 fines in the amount of $7,050, Essex County Incinerator has 3 violations and paid 6 fines in the amount of $90,960. The facility in Rahway has 3 or 4 major fines. All were for exceeding levels for Particulate Matter, Sulfur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide.

“These incinerators are some of the dirtiest facilities in the state of New Jersey when it comes to emitting particulates and air toxins. For all of this pollution, however, they generate very little electricity. The Camden facility only generates around 21MW, Newark at 65MW, and Westville at 14MW. We are putting all of these communities at risk and getting dismal output. These facilities also undermine recycling and efforts to ban single-use plastics. We continue to let these garbage facilities off the hook. New Jersey has given them direct subsidies, loan forgiveness, and 3 or 4 bailouts to keep them from going bankrupt,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The release of iodine in Newark shows once again that all of these incinerators must be shut down for good.”

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