By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
The Durham York Energy Centre has once again exceeded its limits on dioxins and furans.
A late addition to a recent meeting of the finance and administration, planning and economic development, health and social services and works committees, Mirka Januszkiewicz, the region’s director of waste management, told councillors that one of the incinerator’s boilers had greatly exceeded its limits for dioxins and furans during a stack test conducted between May 2 and 11.
Januszkiewicz said that the test results showed that boiler was emitted approximately 818 picograms per reference cubic metre, well above the limit of 60 laid out in the contract between the region and Covanta, the site’s operator.
The results also come in more than 10 times the guidelines set by the province, which is 80 picograms per reference cubic metre.
“The stack test I was responsible for failed,” Januszkiewicz tells The Oshawa Express. “Boiler No. 1 had dioxin and furan numbers above the limit, which means the entire stack test failed.”
The tests are done by installing a cartridge in one of the stacks emitting vapour and other byproducts from the incinerator, and sending it to a lab to see what has accumulated over the testing period.
As a result of the exceedance, the region requested that Covanta take the boiler offline and conduct a full investigation to find out why the amount of dioxins and furans was so much higher than in the second boiler, which came in well below the limit.
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.
Januszkiewicz says that while Covanta initially disputed the test results and wanted to send the sample to an American lab for verification, it has now agreed to shut down the boiler, find the cause of the exceedance and be subject to another stack test before the boiler is brought back online.
The plan will need to be approved by both Durham and York regions, as well as the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).
Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson with MOECC, says the ministry was notified of the exceedance on May 26, the same day Januszkiewicz notified councillors.
In an emailed statement, James Regan, a spokesperson for the New Jersey-based company, says that while there was an exceedance, it does not present a danger to human health.
“It is also important to note that ambient monitoring results of dioxins and furans upwind and downwind of the DYEC as published in 2015 and in the first quarter 2016 were below the MOECC established applicable criteria. These results confirm that the facility poses no risk to human health or the environment,” he says.
“The stack emission limit for dioxins and furans at the Durham York Energy Centre is one of most stringent standards in the world – more stringent than the European standard and the U.S. EPA. Representative test results, including previous stack tests and engineering runs have demonstrated compliance with this stringent stack emission limit.”
Wheeler says that while the stack test came in above the limit imposed in the contract and provincial guidelines, modeling data shows that the concentration measured in Boiler No. 1 would result in a concentration well below provincial standards at the incinerator’s property line.
Januszkiewicz says that at this stage, it is unknown how long the boiler will be offline.
“Covanta, of course, has an interest in preparing the plan as quickly as possible. But, I don’t know if this is going to take five days or five weeks,” she says.
“The very important component of the plan is our review and our consultant’s review, and agreement that the plan is satisfactory to us.”
Wheeler tells The Oshawa Express additional source testing at the site is tentatively scheduled for later this month, “with a report on the results to follow shortly after.”
According to a report given out for Januszkiewicz’s presentation to councillors, the point of impingement – or how much of the contaminant touches the ground or surrounding buildings – came in well below provincial limits.
The news was a shock to several councillors, including Councillor Nancy Diamond, who said that without the additional stack test – which was not mandated by the provincial government – the exceedances could have gone on for much longer.
“I’m concerned that this source test was conducted May 2 to May 11, and wouldn’t have been done if regional council not directed that an additional test be done. It would’ve simply been an annual test, so the exceedance could have gone on for anything up to a year,” she said.
Clarington councillor Joe Neal expressed his shock that the level of dioxin and furans was so high – more than 13 times the limit allowed.
“This is very concerning. And to hear that level – I thought maybe it was going to be 80 or something – that’s just a shocking number for a substance that is as toxic as we’re talking about here,” he said, adding the latest results could throw current plans for the grand opening ceremony of the incineration, scheduled for later this month, into disarray.
“Are we still going to celebrate the opening on June (27)? What are we celebrating? Especially for Clarington.”