Highland Creek residents keep sludge trucks out of their neighbourhood

Mike Adler
Inside Toronto
April 28, 2011

A City of Toronto committee this week chose new incinerators for the Highland Creek sewage plant, moving to overturn a “beneficial use” plan for sewage sludge Toronto Council approved less than a year ago.

Instead of trucking dried human waste out of Toronto through part of southeastern Scarborough, the city will install a more modern “fluidized bed” incinerator at the plant by 2015 and a second by 2020, the public works committee decided Tuesday.

The choice was tough to make, but reflects the wishes of residents who “did a lot of homework” during years of community consultation on both options, Scarborough East Councillor Ron Moeser said in an interview.

Moeser had fought the waste-trucking plan – which was not popular in his ward and still isn’t with ratepayer groups – and said considering the vote to pass it was close at council, decided he would seize the first chance to re-open the debate.

“I wanted to honour what, after six years of consultation, the community endorses,” he said Thursday.

Speaking in favour of the old plan this week was Glenn De Baeremaeker, Moeser’s council colleague and the committee’s former chairperson.

The Scarborough Centre councillor said he can’t blame Moeser or residents close to the truck route, but argued incineration is far less healthy for Toronto residents as a whole than “beneficial uses,” that would place the sludge in landfill, or on farm fields or tree plantations.

“It puts poisonous chemicals in the air,” including cancer-causing dioxins and furans, De Baeremaeker said, acknowledging the sludge also contains chemicals and that the city now proposes to spend an additional $22 million on scrubbers at Highland Creek that should stop much of the new incinerator’s toxic output from escaping.

On Thursday, April 28, Moeser said the trucks trucking the sludge smell “godawful” and if one spilled its contents over a part of the city “that community would feel it for months.”

He added “the Beaches area picked a different option,” meaning a “beneficial use” plan for sludge produced at the Ashbridges Bay plant, “and that was respected.”

The new Highland Creek plan returns to Toronto Council in May, where both councillors say it will likely pass.

De Baeremaeker suggested this is because council itself has shifted, as Rob Ford succeeded David Miller as mayor, to the political right. “Right-wing folks in general tend to be more (in favour of) incineration,” said De Baeremaeker, adding it “comes with the turf, it’s part of a belief system.”

Fluidized bed incinerators are certainly better than the “antique” multiple hearth incinerators Highland Creek has now, but they still represent “an old way of dealing with biosolids we’re hoping our city can get away from,” said Heather Marshall, a campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

The group, which supported “beneficial use” in its submission to the committee, wants the city to have any new incinerator meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards in case Ontario standards become tougher, she said.

As Originally Published: Highland Creek residents keep sludge trucks out of their neighbourhood