Thursday, July 18, 2024
Fair Comment

The Pontiac deservesthe truth about incineration plants

By Jen Montague

Over the last few weeks, people of the Pontiac are just beginning to learn about the warden’s proposal to bring a mega garbage incineration plant to the region. It involves burning 400,000 tonnes of garbage each year, imported from the Outaouais region and the City of Ottawa. However, the information provided to the public is extremely one-sided. The warden claims that this is a job-creating and safe technology, but this claim is refuted by decades of scientific studies that state otherwise. Let’s begin with a few facts that are curiously omitted from public presentations.Currently, Pontiac produces approximately 5000 tonnes of household garbage each year and this waste goes to the Lachute landfill. We can reduce up to 30 per cent of this through a concerted effort to compost our food waste instead of dumping it in landfill. These efforts have only just begun in several Pontiac municipalities. We can also “up our game” in terms of recycling plastics, cans and glass and keep them out of landfill. These are simpler and more reasonable solutions to the problem of waste that do not involve hauling approximately 395,000 tonnes of garbage from elsewhere to incinerate. Further, the evidence-based research around the world has found that this method of diversion from landfill is the most cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to help solve the problem of waste.On the promise of 50 jobs for the Pontiac, studies have been done in the United States that demonstrate recycling creates 10 to 20 times more jobs than incinerators. Incinerators require a huge capital investment, but they offer relatively few jobs when compared to recycling. Again, recycling and composting are more beneficial ways to manage our waste.Our warden claims that we would be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by moving from landfills to incineration. Her presentation at a recent Town Hall reiterated a corporate claim that “99.9 per cent” of incinerator plant emissions from the smoke stacks is “pure steam.” However, it has been well documented that, in real combustion processes, only a small fraction of the toxic mix of dioxins, PCB’s, and PFA’s emitted can be filtered. Burning plastics creates the most CO2 emissions of all plastic waste management methods. In terms of the problem with landfill, it is estimated that landfill methane accounts for 1.8 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Landfill methane is produced by sending biodegradable materials, such as food waste, paper, wood, etc. to landfill. To reduce landfill methane, we need to divert these biodegradables away from landfill by composting, recycling and re-using. These methods are much safer and smarter than burning garbage.The argument for an incinerator also depends on the claim that these technologies have improved over the years. Again, research shows that even modern, state of the art incinerators release toxic pollutants in emissions and their residues. These pollutants, such as dioxins, nitrous oxides, mercury, arsenic, etc., are highly toxic and they are persistent. The Pembina Institute reports that they travel through the air and deposit on soil, surface waters and vegetation and enter the food chain where they accumulate so that our health (and that of future generations) is impacted by the food we consume, especially fish and farm produce. In addition, fine particulate matter from incineration plants is a known contributor to cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease and cancer. There is a correlation between toxins released from incineration plants and the impact on residents. A study of adolescent children found elevated blood levels of PCB’s, dioxins, delayed reproductive maturation, and increased rates of death from childhood cancer.This plan to bring an incineration facility to our region will harm our residents’ health and our environment. What’s more, the ash that is left after the burn must be disposed of somewhere; it is commonly sent to landfills. Industry estimates are that they represent about 25 per cent of the original weight of garbage burned. So, this would mean that we would be dealing with 100,000 tonnes per year of highly toxic waste. So, instead of reducing what goes to our region’s landfill, we would be dumping 20 times more waste. The warden proposes that to reduce this ash, we would mix the majority of it into concrete for our roads and construction. This is a terrifying proposal, given that it would allow for those toxins to leech into our waterways and soil with rainfall. Further, it would still leave us with three per cent (12,000 tonnes) of our total tonnage, which is more than double our current amount of landfill waste (5,000 tonnes). The argument for the incinerator depends on environmentally unsafe practices that will, at minimum, leave us with more than double our current landfill tonnageAs residents of the Pontiac, we are owed the facts and we must not allow our elected representatives to parrot corporate slogans to the detriment of our health and environment. There is so much at stake here for current and future residents of this county. When our elected officials fail to inform us, openly and transparently, it is up to us to demonstrate the leadership that we deserve. If you are as concerned as we are, here is what you could do:- call and write to your councillors, mayors and warden.- attend Municipal Council and MRC Council of Mayors meetings.- talk to your neighbours and friends about the harms of this incineration plan.- start a petition – email for a template to use.

Jen Montague, lives is Thorne, Quebec and is a member of Friends of the Pontiac.