Study Shows Incinerators are in 80% of EJ Communities Nationally & NJ

For Immediate Release
May 22, 2019
Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

Study Shows Incinerators are in 80% of EJ Communities Nationally & NJ

According to new study by The New School in New York City, 80% of incinerators in the U.S are located in environmental justice communities. New Jersey has 4 incinerators, one in Camden, Rahway, Westville, Rahway and a Warren incinerator in Belvidere that is closing. The study shows that current state of garbage incineration seems to be in decline due to economics and because of an aging and costly operation and maintenance costs, and increasing attention to issues of zero waste, environmental justice and climate change.
“The New School study shows that incinerators that spew toxic chemicals are put in low income communities across the country. In New Jersey it is no different, our incinerators are found in low income and minority communities that get a disproportion amount of pollution. Where you see some of the worst air pollution if not the state but the country with lead and toxic chemicals. EJ communities serve as dumping grounds for major polluters and are choking on these garbage facilities. Almost 8 out of 10 incinerators in the country are in low income communities of color,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “New Jersey’s facilities are in the Ironbound area of Newark, not in Short Hills, Union County’s incinerator is in the only black community of Rahway and South Jersey’s facility is in Westville, not Haddonfield. They are a failed technology of the 1970s and should go away with disco music and platform shoes. It is important that this study came out because it reinforces what we already know and that these facilities should be closed.”

Garbage incinerators are relatively 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. Ash byproducts also contain dioxins and heavy metals like lead and mercury. Some of the health burdens that have been documented in environmental justice communities include elevated blood lead levels, asthma, preterm births, and increased cardiovascular disease related morbidity and mortality rates.
“Newark and Camden garbage incinerators emit the greatest amount of lead in the country. They 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 incinerator. These harmful chemicals have already caused health problems such as heart diseases, increased asthma rates, and elevated blood levels,” said Tittel. “Pollution from heavy duty diesel refuse trucks are also major polluters. Hundreds of trucks come in and out of facilities and emit thousands of pounds of VOCs, CO2, NOx, and particulate matter.”
Incinerators in Newark and Camden emit the largest total amounts of lead (annually) of all the incinerators in the country. The Covanta owned, Essex County Resource Recovery incinerator in Newark, New Jersey emits the largest total amount of lead of any MSW incinerator in the country with over 600 pounds of lead, receives half of its garbage from New York City, and only generates 65MW of power. Covanta Camden (also in New Jersey) is at 380 pounds of lead. Children in Newark represent 13 percent of the children in the state with elevated blood lead levels. The incinerator’s lead emissions combine with multiple sources of lead in the home and school environments and may compound the potential health risks of already overburdened EJ communities in Newark.
“These facilities 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,” said Tittel. “We are not cleaning up these garbage facilities and are letting them off the hook. New Jersey has given them direct subsidies, loan forgiveness, and 3 or 4 bailouts to keep them from going bankrupt. The Camden facility even waived and looked the other way when it came to pollution because they said reducing pollution limits can put them out of business. The garbage facility in Warren is closing because it is not financially viable.”
The Covanta Camden Energy Recovery Center in New Jersey received 5 violations for and paid 4 times 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 facilities are not carbon neutral. Of the waste they burn, around 1/3 comes from plastic, which comes from fossil fuels. These facilities need to burn natural gas and plastic to make the fire hot enough to burn wet garbage. Diesel garbage trucks coming in and out of the site are emitting 1,000s of lbs. of air pollution. What’s even worse is that half of the waste they are hauling is coming from out of state to keep the facility afloat financially,” said Tittel. “The study should also put light on groups who want to plant trees and give green cover while communities are breathing in toxic air. If these facilities are killing trees, what is it doing to children.”
ECHO data for the 73 incinerators reveals that an estimated 21 incinerators received 126 “Federally Reportable Violations” under the Clean Air Act between 2016 – 2019.
“New Jersey cannot keep bailing out incredibly harmful polluters. It is shameful that DEP has looked the other way when it comes to protecting these communities like Newark and Camden. These waste facilities also undermine recycling, banning plastic bags and so many positive things because have to feed the beast of their failed system and keep the demand for ticketing fees,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We thank the New School for releasing this report. This study should be a wake-up call to the Murphy Administration and a reminder of how bad these garbage incinerators. The DEP need to do their job and shut down these facilities. Governor Murphy needs to keep his commitment of Executive Order 23 to help and protect EJ communities.”

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