Chesapeake PSR

Working to clean up Baltimore's incinerator

Toxics and HealthTimothy WhitehouseComment

On December 11, Chesapeake PSR's Gwen DuBois, MD, MPH, and Laalitha Surapaneni, MD, MPH, gave testimony to Maryland's Air Quality Control Advisory Council in which they urged the state to set lower limits for NOx emissions from municipal waste combustors (MWCs). The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has set a 150-parts-per-million (ppm) limit on a 24-hour basis that will go into effect in 2019 and a 145-ppm, 30-day average limit that will go into effect in 2020.

Chesapeake PSR and other community and health groups are concerned about the human health and environmental impacts of trash incinerators in Maryland, especially the state’s largest, located in Baltimore and operated by Wheelabrator Baltimore, L.P. This incinerator is often referred to as the BRESCO incinerator. The Baltimore City Council, local community and health groups, and Chesapeake PSR are urging MDE to adopt a 45-ppm emission standard limit and to release publicly real-time air monitor data collected by Wheelabrator. The advisory council heard testimony that new incinerators are subject to a 45-ppm standard and that a new incinerator in Florida was able to meet that limit.

Reducing NOx in the air is associated with improvements in lung function, less respiratory illness and less likelihood of premature death. Greater lung function in adulthood can contribute to lower risks of premature death and other adverse health outcomes.

NOx is a precursor to ozone, which is formed when nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight. NOx also causes breathing problems, headaches and chronically reduced lung function, and it can damage ecosystems by harming animals and plants. NOx emissions in the air are one of the largest sources of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

The advisory council recommended a feasibility study on a 45-ppm standard and asked MDE to share continuous emissions monitoring data from the Wheelabrator incinerator.

Chesapeake PSR opposes the burning of trash in incinerators. According to the Energy Justice Network, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin to make the same amount of energy as a coal-fired power plant. They also release 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide (CO2), twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70 percent more sulfur dioxides (SO2).

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