What’s the Risk?
Some of our stakeholders and community members have expressed concern about the environmental and human health impacts of air emissions associated with waste combustion. Recent studies, such as one by Public Health England, have shown that air emissions from well-managed EfW facilities do not significantly contribute to health risk and pollutant load.
U.S. Dioxin & Furan Emissions over Time
- Mercury Emissions. Mercury emissions from U.S. EfW facilities are a fraction of those from coal plants. From 1990 to 2005, EfW facilities reduced their mercury emissions by 96 percent, representing only 2.2 percent of the total U.S. mercury emissions in 2005. In the years since then, emissions have declined further: Currently, total U.S. EfW facility mercury emissions are estimated to be less than half a ton per year.
- Dioxin Emissions. Historically, municipal waste combustors were a leading source of dioxin emissions. However, advancements in boiler design, operations and air pollution control equipment have drastically reduced the industry’s footprint. In fact, according to recent peer‐reviewed research by Columbia University scientists, the total dioxin emissions of all U.S. EfW plants in 2012 represented just 0.54 percent of total controlled combustion sources and just 0.09 percent of total controlled and open burning sources of dioxin.
- Nanoparticulate Emissions. Nanoparticles quickly agglomerate into larger particles within minutes of emission. Non-EfW sources of nanoparticulate have been found to be more significant than EfW sources. A 2010 study found nanoparticulate and larger particulate of an EfW facility negligible with respect to a nearby highway. A 2013 study found that reported particulate number counts from EfW were similar to rural background concentrations and four orders of magnitude lower than those measured at the tailpipes of road vehicles.
- Minimal Health Risk. Public Health England found negative health impacts associated with well-regulated EfW facilities likely to be very small, if even detectable. Long-term biomonitoring near three Dutch EfW facilities found “no potential risk with respect to human consumption quality of the investigated crops and products in the vicinity.” And the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found prevalence of childhood asthma in the Merrimack Valley—where several EfW facilities are located—was not associated with emissions of particulate matter (PM10) or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the local stationary sources.