Durham-York incinerator firing up with health concerns

Just east of Toronto, the “state-of-the-art” incinerator built to burn the garbage for Durham and York Regions is already going over toxic air emission limits in the testing stage.

As Toronto develops a long term waste strategy, it's good to take a look at lessons learned by our neighbours. Residents and Councillors of Durham and York are discovering that incineration is both more expensive and more polluting than they were promised.

Durham and York Regions are upper-tier municipalities that manage the waste for cities and towns east and north of Toronto. (Durham includes Pickering, Whitby, Oshawa, Clarington and Uxbridge; York includes Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan, Newmarket and Aurora)

In 2008, Durham and York decided to build a $280M mass-burn incinerator with international giant Covanta to burn the garbage stream for both regions. Originally scheduled to open in 2014, the Durham-York incinerator is still not operational, and is currently in testing phase.

Despite being designed to have modern filters and emissions controls, there are serious health concerns about the emissions and ash that will be created by burning waste, including plastics.

Dioxins and furans are key pollutants that raise concerns with health and environmental groups - dioxins and furans accumulate in the bodies of animals and humans, and cannot be removed. No level of exposure to dioxins is safe.

The bad news is that in the commissioning and testing stages, the Covanta incinerator has emitted up to 4 times higher than the permitted level of dioxins. 
Local Councillors and residents are concerned about what this means - if Covanta’s incinerator is having trouble in this early stage, what will it mean over the 35-year lifetime of the incinerator?

Incineration is the most expensive, dirty and inefficient way to deal with waste. And it’s wasteful. Most residential garbage is recyclable or compostable - burning it instead of finding ways to increase recycling results in toxic ash, toxic air emissions, we destroy resources forever instead of circulating them into the economy.

Let’s ensure that Toronto creates a good long term waste strategy, focused on reducing, reusing and recycling our waste first. Let’s learn from the mistakes of our neighbours in Peel and Durham-York.

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