Burning quest

Should public health be sacrificed to waste?

Garbage incineration is a trench war with clearly drawn battle lines. The Union ministry of urban development (moud) has been sceptical of wte. Social and environmental groups are dead against it. ap Transco, power supplier in Andhra Pradesh, has petitioned the Supreme Court about the high tariffs it is forced to pay to wte plants. But mnre is pushing for it, citing examples of such plants operating in Europe. But the ministry is giving only half the picture. On February 13, 2007, the European parliament refused to treat incineration at par with recycling."Incineration is discredited in the West; the wider public considers it obsolete and polluting. There hasn't been a new incinerator proposal in a decade, until recently. Severe public pressure has made it politically impossible to build incinerators,' says Annie Leonard, member of the us steering committee of the Global Anti-Incineration Alliance.

"Between 1985 and 1994, at least 280 us incinerator projects were cancelled,' writes Blenda Platt of the ngo Institute of Local Self Reliance in Washington dc, in her April 2004 report Resources up in flames. She says improved pollution control regulations have forced the closure of several existing incinerators. For example, eu's 1996 guidelines resulted in the closure of 23 of the 28 operating incinerators in the uk. More recently, 509 waste incinerators in Japan are slated to close because of stricter dioxin emission standards in 2002. From December 1998 to May 2002, 170 incinerators in Japan were decommissioned after failing to meet revised standards. The Philippines may be the only country with a national ban on incinerators, Platt points out. But, as the market in the West shrinks, incinerator manufacturers are eyeing developing countries. "Dozens of incinerators are currently proposed in industrialising nations,' says Platt.

The devil in dioxin
Incinerators' emissions contain dioxins, the most toxic of all humanmade substance. These are carcinogenic, cause neurological damage, and disrupt the reproductive, thyroid and respiratory system, among other things. They are produced when chlorinated plastics (like pvc) are burnt. In February 2006, the European Commission adopted a new law setting emission levels of some dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls in food and feed.

According to Paul Connett, chemistry professor at St Lawrence University in Canton, New York, three French solid waste incinerators were closed in January 1998 because milk from cows on nearby dairy farms was found contaminated with excessive levels of dioxins. A study in the British Journal of Cancer says people living within a 7.5-km radius of a municipal solid waste incinerator have an increased likelihood of getting several cancers. The 1996 research studied 14 million people living near 72 incinerators in the uk.

Incinerators release carcinogenic chemicals from their smoke stacks, including heavy metals (such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and beryllium); acid gases, including hydrogen fluoride; partially-burned organic material such as pvc; herbicide residues and wood preservatives; other organic chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; and dioxins and furans. One recent analysis identified 192 volatile organic compounds being emitted by a solid waste incinerator. How much do we know?
The presence of pvc in Indian garbage is well known. "Analysis of garbage fed into the Lucknow and selco projects points to sizeable amounts of plastics