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Incinerator plan gets green light

Covanta given go-ahead to start process of restarting boiler; medical officer of health expresses concerns over dioxins and furans


The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Region of Durham have given the go ahead to Covanta’s proposed plan to get one of the boilers at the Durham York Energy Centre back online.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Covanta is a step closer to restarting one of the boilers at the Durham York Energy Centre.

Boiler No. 1, which has been shut off since late May, was shut down after a stack test found it was emitting more than 13 times the limit of dioxins and furans. According to a report presented during a marathon session of the region’s works committee, Covanta plans to do diagnostic source testing by June 27 before moving on to data evaluation to determine whether more tests are needed by July 18. Under the proposed timetable, the New Jersey-based operator of the incinerator plans to do another stack test by the end of the summer.

Another report prepared by HDR, the region’s engineering consultants, a number of events likely lead to the incinerator greatly exceeding its limits for dioxins and furans.

“The boilers, they’re designed the same, and with its design, it should be able to destroy dioxins. But there were a number of operating incidents that occurred that we’ve identified that may have contributed to that exceedance,” said Bruce Howie, vice-president and professional associate for HDR’s waste management sector, adding he has confidence in Covanta’s plans to avoid problems like these again.

According to the HDR report, those incidents included a carbon monoxide exceedance on May 4 that lead to tests being aborted and an unplanned shutdown of Boiler No. 1 the following day when its feed chute was blocked by a mattress and it had to be cleaned up.

“There was some cleaning of the boiler that was done offline prior to some of the sampling that we think may have contributed to the exceedance. It resulted in some other operational changes. They, either as a result of that or during diagnostic testing, it may be exacerbated the problem,” Howie said.

Despite the confidence of consultants and staff that such a large exceedance would not happen again, some councillors were not as convinced.

“I am concerned with the Covanta report and just what is going to flow from that. The number of times they said they were voluntarily doing things, I gave up counting,” Councillor Nancy Diamond said, voicing her criticism over the operator saying the tests were voluntary when they were contractually obligated.

“It was cloying in its cooperation and everything’s wonderful. Well, it isn’t wonderful when the boiler’s not working and we have the exceedances that we faced.”

The nearly seven-hour long committee meeting also featured a series of deputations from people voicing their concerns over the exceedance and their lack of faith that Covanta will get things right in the future.

“Everyone who’s breathing in the emissions from this plant does not want to be a part of an experiment while (Covanta) tries to figure out what’s going on,” Wendy Bracken, a watchdog of the incinerator project and a member of the region’s Energy from Waste-Waste Management committee, said.

“Things are not OK.”

“Alarming news”

While he has publicly expressed that there is nothing to worry about when it comes to the exceedances in dioxins and furans, Dr. Robert Kyle, the region’s commissioner of health, has expressed his concerns in a more private arena.

In emails obtained by The Oshawa Express, Kyle voiced his concern about the exceedances that had just been made public.

“Thx for sharing with me the alarming news that the recent stack emission test results for dioxins and furans of boiler 1 of DYEC exceeds the acceptable level by a factor of almost 12 (assuming I heard you correctly). As you know, this is not an isolated incident. Moreover, sustained excessive emissions of dioxins and furans are a potential human health hazard, primarily by entering the food chain,” Kyle writes in the May 24 email to Gioseph Anello, the region’s manager of waste planning. The email was also forwarded to Garry Cubitt, the region’s chief administrative officer; Cliff Curtis, the region’s works commissioner; Ken Gorman, the region’s director of environmental health; and Mirka Januszkiewicz, director of waste management.

“I am surprised that the MOECC does not intend to take any regulatory action at this time and otherwise the affected boiler is not shut down until a root cause analysis is performed and corrective action taken to prevent this from re-occurring.”

Later in the email chain, Kyle says that more tests like the ones that detected the exceedance are needed in the future.

“With respect to human health, although the modelling results are re-assuring, the main human health pathway of concern is ingestion, not inhalation, and to this end, it is important for the local food chain to be protected by lowering dioxin and furan stack emissions and more frequent independent stack testing,” he writes.

Prior to this email chain, and some comments made during the June 8 meeting of regional council, Kyle had said that he was not concerned about exceedances of dioxins and furans.

“I have no concerns (about human health), but…it is important to do subsequent testing,” he said at the Nov. 4 council meeting, the first that occurred following news the incinerator had exceeded its limit for dioxins and furans for the first time. He would later go 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.”