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Carbon Bazaar led environmental health crisis on the horizon

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, December 04, 2008 | 1:09 AM

Even as the Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd. (TOWMCPL), a subsidiary of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (ILFS) has started constructions for the Dioxins* emitting incinerator based municipal waste to electricity plants in the residential areas of Delhi in the face of furious residents, there is more bad news emerging from Pune and Nagpur, Maharasthra where SMS Infrastructures Limited has begun construction of two 68 tonnes-per-day hazardous waste-to-electricity plants. These companies are claiming that there would be no heavy metal laden fly ash, “no stack” and “no emissions” that pose a risk to health and environment. These claims are manifestly incorrect and they pose a grave risk to human health due to toxic emissions from incineration and co-incineration processes. These companies are going ahead with their projects because Vilas Mutemmwar, Union Minister for New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) is fiscally supporting these claims, which are astoundingly misleading.

These companies and the Ministry are promoting incineration, plasma arc, gasification and pyrolysis. The fact is these processes involve incineration/combustion as an essential component. All of these technologies emit dioxins and other harmful pollutants, and are defined as incineration by the US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Title 40: Protection of Environment, Hazardous Waste Management System: General, subpart B—definitions, 260.10, current as of February 5, 2008). Dioxin is the common name for 75 toxic chemicals that are unwanted by-products of manufacturing and combustion processes when chlorine and carbon-containing materials are combined.

While ILFS uses Incineration of Refuse Derived Fuel technology, SMS Infrastructures Limited will use Westinghouse Plasma Corporation (WPC) gasification technology, which is also a co-incineration process that has been rejected in the past. Each plant of SMS Infrastructures Limited claims to provide comprehensive disposal services for a wide variety of hazardous waste, and will produce up to 5 MW of electricity. The project in Pune will start operations in summer 2008 and Nagpur in the fall of 2008. ILFS proposes to 16 MW in Delhi.

It is claimed that the proposed plants can generate large amounts of “renewable” electricity. Both companies propose to use “Plasma Gasification Vitrification” (PGV) technology supplied by Westinghouse Plasma Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Alter NRG. If built, these facilities would be the very first of their kind in India. A process flow diagram for their “PGV Process” (Plasma Gasification Vitrification) completely leaves the stack out. That diagram also refers to “clean gas” when in fact – without a doubt - the synthetic gas (“syngas”) would contain toxic chemicals.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Solid Waste Section prepared a White Paper on the use of plasma arc technology for the treatment of municipal solid waste. The Florida DEP comments include: “There is considerable uncertainty about the quality of the “syngas” to be produced by this technology when processing MSW. While the high temperatures can destroy organics, some undesirable compounds, like dioxins and furans, can reform at temperature ranges between 450 and 850 degrees F if chlorine is present…..High temperatures can also increase the concentrations of volatile metals in the syngas.” “There is considerable uncertainty about the quality of the “slag” to be produced by this technology when processing MSW. There is very little leaching data on this material for MSW….One leaching…test…suggests arsenic and cadmium may leach above the groundwater standards. This may adversely impact the beneficial use of this material.” “The economics of this technology are not well known.”

Clearly, MNRE, SMS Infrastructures Limited and ILFS have demonstrated criminal callousness towards public health by going ahead with these toxic projects.

The fact is that the emissions of all kind and their levels are yet to be determined since the final design of these plants is not yet completed. These companies have not been able to produce any test data from any facility in the world using plasma arc for large- scale commercial solid waste treatment. A review of Westinghouse Plasma's website (www.westinghouse-plasma.com) and that of their parent company Alter NRG (www.alternrg.com) reveals conflicting and troubling statements, and raises important questions about the effectiveness, reliability and safety of the proposed facilities.

Westinghouse's website (their section entitled “Environmental Benefits) admits dioxins and furans (and NOx and Sox) are emitted from their process. They directly contradict this admission of toxic emissions elsewhere on their website (in the section entitled “Projects Under Development”) where they write that in addition to energy, “the only other output from the facility will be an inert slag which can be used for aggregate in road construction.” They seem to have left out the dioxin and furan emissions, as well as NOx and SOx. Debunking the assurances that this technology is proven and reliable, one only needs to read the repeated disclaimers in Alter NRG's website and documents. These disclaimers would be funny if not so serious. Persistent claims that their technology is proven are followed by fine print disclaimers saying these are only “forward-looking statements.” Their disclaimer admits that actual results might differ from what is claimed: “The projections, estimates and beliefs contained in such forward-looking information necessarily involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause Alter Nrg's actual results, performance or achievements in future periods to differ materially from any estimates or projections of future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking information. The risks, uncertainties and other factors, which could influence actual results, are described in other documents previously filed with regulatory authorities. Accordingly….Alter Nrg undertakes no obligation to publish revised forward looking information to reflect unanticipated events or circumstances” (Alter NRG website, Legal Disclaimer, http://www.alternrg.com/common/disclaimer.html).

Should the protection of the health and environment of residents of Delhi, Pune, Nagpur and elsewhere rely on companies and technologies that repeatedly disclaim responsibility for their information and performance of the technologies?

These proposed plants in Delhi, Pune & Nagpur are claiming that they would generate few megawatts of electricity, free from outside electricity. The public is entitled to see the proof of this claim, as we are unaware of any facility similar to that proposed that generates electricity free from outside electricity. Where is the data? Where is the proof? Where is a similar plant that has operated and generated this amount of electricity? Wouldn’t these plants use more electricity in the process than they hope to gain from the gas stream that they use to burn and generate electricity?

Unlike in India, in the US once challenged, the project proponents of such technologies testified truthfully under oath in the past that their claims that these facilities were “already successfully operating” and “pollution free” were not correct. Unfortunately, these projects and their have not received adequate scrutiny by government agencies. Instead, many government officials and agencies seem to have welcomed these companies despite serious problems with this technology in actual commercial operations, despite misleading claims and despite a lack of truly verifiable independent data from actual operating conditions to back up key claims. An industry that constantly misleads the public about the basic facts of their technologies should not be trusted with the health of our communities.

Meanwhile, Colin Drummond of Viridor Waste Management, UK's waste management company recently led a group of British experts to India and claimed that his company is making profits and recommended pyrolysis and gasification. Drummond and his group is not aware that Indian waste is not suitable for energy generation because of high silt, moisture and low calorific value and the fact that all waste to energy projects based on thermal technology has failed in India. Viridor’s website does not say anything about pyrolysis or gasification and do not have any such facility. It does not disclose what it is planning regarding pyrolysis or gasification, what technology and what manufacturer it would use, and what existing facility they see as a model for what they propose in India. Its website just claims that its waste management services include “Energy from waste incineration”.

Garbage and medical incinerators have been identified as the largest sources of dioxins in the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)’s reassessment reports on dioxin in 1994/2004. Dioxin particles are stored in fatty tissue and will accumulate to create “buildup” when low-level exposure is continual. It was used as a chemical weapon in the US-Vietnam war.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that dioxin is a human carcinogen. Non-Hodgkin_ s lymphoma and cancers of the liver, lung, stomach, soft and connective tissue have been associated with dioxin.

Even at very low exposure, at levels of parts per trillion, dioxin causes immune system damage, hormone disruption, and reproductive and development effects. Some newer emission control devices have been effective in decreasing recorded dioxin air emissions from incinerators, but there is no safe level additional exposure to dioxins. This is because the average daily dioxin intake for is already 200 times higher than what the EPA defines as a safe dose for adults. Those most at risk of receiving the highest concentrations are babies. Studies also show elevated levels of dioxin in the blood of people living near municipal solid waste incinerators when compared to the general population. Residents in Indian cities are rightly alarmed at the prospect of these incinerator plants coming up in their city. According to USEPA, Dioxins travel long distances in the atmosphere and is found on plants, in water, soil, grazing animals and humans.
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