By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
With regional councillors hearing a final update on Tuesday morning whether or not the Durham York Energy Centre will go into production, one fewer stack test will be taken into consideration.
Stack test results from the incinerator showing dioxin and furan levels well above provincial standards have been tossed out.
The results of that closed meeting, and whether the incinerator was given the green light or if Covanta will have to redo the acceptance testing, were unavailable at press time.
According to a letter sent by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to the Region of Durham, it was stated that that sample did not provide a proper representation of what was going on.
“They indicated due to concerns with sample integrity,” Cliff Curtis, the region’s works commissioner, told regional councillors during a meeting of council. “The results from the first test were not considered representative of emissions, and subsequent source testing was completed. So the first test was contaminated, so it was thrown out.”
According to an interoffice memorandum from Curtis dated Oct. 29, stack testing at the incinerator found levels of dioxins and furans at 226 and 100 picograms per cubic metre respectively. The provincial limit for dioxins and furans is 60 picograms per cubic metre.
According to the acceptance test report from Covanta, the site’s o perator, two separate labs – ALS Life Sciences in Burlington and SGS Environmental Services in North Carolina – identified interference in that result.
“The conclusion is that both labs identified interference,” the report reads. “ALS has assigned an estimate of 15 per cent to the TEQ, which should somehow be related to the increased weight attributable to the interference. However the method to assign that value is not understood given that there were 12 samples submitted for analysis. SGS has considerable experience in the analysis of samples from similar units and has stated that in their experience it is not possible to determine the actual bias, and that the samples are considered to be compromised to an unknown extent.”
Councillors were first made aware of the letter by Curtis at the council meeting, after which Clarington councillor Joe Neal requested a 10-minute recess so that he and other councillors could have a chance to review the letter and ask Curtis related questions. His request was denied after a majority of councillors voted against it.
Two subsequent stack tests found the dioxin and furan levels were within compliance.
However, long-term testing cartridges taking samples during those stack tests are giving vastly different results.
As part of the agreement between Covanta and the region, the New Jersey-based operator has been paying $10,000 in liquidated damages for each day the incinerator has not been open since the original Dec. 14, 2014 deadline to begin incinerating waste to produce energy passed.
Joanne Paquette, a spokesperson for the region’s works department, says that as of Dec. 18, Covanta has paid $1.84 million of the $3.22 million it owes.
This is the same amount Covanta had paid when The Oshawa Express last asked in early November.
AMESA cartridge results
Along with the stack tests, long-term cartridges known as AMESA cartridges have been installed at the site. While the results of these tests are not part of the conditions for the acceptance test report, they did have to be installed at the site as part of long-term operations.
However, Covanta did run tests with the cartridges at the same time as the stack tests to see if the numbers correlated. They did not.
According to Covanta’s acceptance test report, tests done on the afternoon of Oct. 28 produced wildly different results, with the cartridges finding levels more than 30 times higher than the stack tests.
Curtis told councillors that a “subject matter expert” has been retained by the region, and has already been provided with an explanation as to why the results were so different.
“Personally, I was quite concerned about the discrepancy between the AMESA cartridge and the stack test. We now have an explanation, which I will share at the appropriate time,” he said. “So as far as I’m concerned, we’ve already got an expert on board, he’s giving advice, and that should be sufficient.”
Paquette tells The Oshawa Express that at this time, the explanation is “considered privileged.”
Wendy Bracken, a member of the region’s Energy from Waste – Waste Management Advisory Committee, told councillors during a delegation that more attention should be paid to what changed from the first test that showed high dioxin and furan levels to the subsequent tests that saw them go down, specifically citing part of the report that states that “cleanup procedures” had been changed to a method that Covanta says provided less interference.
“In the AMESA report, there’s very little information about what this cleanup procedure involved,” she said, adding that the full 2,337-page report cites little information on the changes that she could find. “I think you need to ask has the cleanup procedure been scientifically verified by an independent and academic expert and chemist. It cannot just be a decision between Covanta, the labs and (the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change).”
Bracken went on to add that concerns over the incinerator falls not only on the works department, which officially oversees the facility, but also the health department.
“I would suggest that this is a works concern, but it’s also a health concern,” she said. “All of those people are responsible here because the health department has been, and the medical officer of health…dioxins and furans have been a big part of the conversation since we first started talking about this. This is one of the biggest concerns with incineration.”
According to Health Canada, dioxins and furans are a byproduct of incineration processes, and can accumulate in biological tissues. The federal entity also says that while humans and animals are all exposed to the two compounds, exposure in higher concentrations can lead to serious health problems.
Dr. Robert Kyle, the region’s medical health officer, told councillors that while he wasn’t officially part of the discussion as to whether the incinerator will be the given the green light or not, he has been consulted on potential health concerns.
“I have been in touch with works staff about the acceptance package and the results of health concerns, so I’ve had discussions and will continue to have discussions with works in that regard,” he said, later adding that he is “not an expert” on the subject.
At a November meeting, Kyle said that while further sampling will be needed, he had not seen any issues with the results seen at that point.
“I have no concerns (about human health), but…it is important to do subsequent testing,” he said about the since tossed test results, later going on to say that these stack tests represent a snapshot of the plant’s operation, and not necessarily what’s happening all the time.
“A single exceedance doesn’t constitute a health hazard.”
Oshawa councillor John Neal said the health concerns should be brought up with Christine Elliott, who was recently announced as the province’s patient ombudsman.
“If you don’t get your answers from the medical officer of health in here, or however you can write a letter, but why don’t you write a letter to the patient ombudsman and see where that goes?” Neal said during an exchange with Bracken. “Because we should be looking at health issues that might crop up from a facility like this, and instead of sitting here listening to or begging for information from our health department and our medical officer of health I don’t see forthcoming. I only see a consultant showing up during the process.”