Waste to Energy Seems Like A Good Idea, But Is It Good For The Environment?

Jim Travers, a resident of Coeymans, NY, attended the February 15 Save the Pine Bush dinner and heard Jack Lauber speak about Waste-to-Energy. These are Jim Travers’ comments. – Ed

Please forward this email to all those on the Save The Pine Bush mail list. Feedback is welcomed. Thanks. Jim Travers

I do not think incineration of garbage is healthy for anyone or our environment, whether it is used to create electricity or only to eliminate a portion of the solid waste stream.

“Incinerators have one important feature in common with nuclear power plants: they produce pollution that didn’t exist before the plant was switched on.” (1)

Jack Lauber, an environmental engineer and a former DEC official, spoke at the Save the Pine Bush dinner which was held at the First Presbyterian Church in Albany on February 15th. Mr. Lauber is, far by, the greatest promoter of incineration of solid waste in this area. After the dinner I asked him, p! rivately, if he either worked for or was paid by the incineration industry. He replied “Well…, most of my funding, aside my pension, comes from Columbia” (University). When I pressed him further, he replied, “well…, indirectly“.


The cost to construct a one thousand tons per day (TPD) “state of the art” incinerator was put at between 150 to 200 million dollars by a former DEC engineer who accompanied Mr. Lauber.

I believe the cost must be nearly double that figure today, based upon the 180 million dollars it cost to build Syracuse’s 990 TPD incinerator, which went online in 1994, and it might be even more if you calculate in the long-term financing and bonding costs. The Wall Street Journal reported in article that appeared on its front page in its August 11, 1993 issue that incinerators for municipal trash are financial disasters for local government. (2) Even though this article was written more than a decade ago, the facts reported in the article still ring true today.

According to the City’s press release issued on January 20, 2006, tipping fees at a typical waste to energy incinerator are three to four times higher than those charged by permitted landfills and you’ll still need a landfill for the ash. (3)

Although Mr. Lauber claims that the “state of the art” technology used in today’s incinerators is clean and relatively non-polluting, I disagree with him for several reasons, some of which are based upon the actions taken by the incinerator’s operators who, like most involved in profit driven industry, continually seek to lowe! r their bottom line.

The simplest way they achieve this cost cutting is usually by reducing the costly frequent maintenance necessary to keep their plants “state of the art”. This makes a well designed plant emit much more pollution then it would otherwise.

Part of the basis from which I draw my conclusion that incineration in unhealthy can be found in a document published by Dr. Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry at St. Lawrence University, entitled “Municipal Waste Incineration: A Poor Solution For The Twenty First Century“, which he delivered to an audience attending a waste to energy conference held in Amsterdam, Holland, in November 1998. This PDF document is my first attachment to this email.

I believe Jack Lauber is sincere in his belief that incineration is the best way to deal with the solid waste issue, though it does not address the issue of reducing municipal or other solid ! waste.

As long as there’s money to be made from either landfilling or incineration of solid waste, there will be no effort to reduce this source of revenue by those who profit from it.

Mr. Lauber touts the incinerators in Japan as being the most efficient in the world for reducing toxic emissions, but scientists and the residents living near those plants would disagree. (4) He also lauded praises upon the waste to energy incinerator located in East Syracuse, New York as another fine example of a clean burning state of the art incinerator. However, one of Mr. Lauber’s old friends at DEC, NY State Wildlife Pathologist Dr. Ward Stone, would disagree with him. Dr. Stone’s reporting that the ash coming from this incinerator contained toxic heavy metals nearly cost him his job. (5) Obviously, the lobby advocating Dr. Stone’s removal didn’t want the dirty truth made public.

Long Island’s North Shore is known to many as the setting of Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby”, an area that is still today home to many of our wealthiest citizens. Here, at the head of Hempstead Harbor is located the quaint Village of Roslyn that was founded by my ancestors in the mid-1600s. I fondly remember the stories told to me by my grandfather when I was a child while we were on his small boat fishing for flounder and stripers in Hempstead Harbor. Some he told were of the great speedboat races he took part in there when he was a younger man. Sadly, I was the last of many generations to have enjoyed the natural beauty and bounty once offered by these fine waters.

It was here also, just across Roslyn’s boundary line in Port Washington, that in the early 1960s the Town of North Hempstead decided to site their landfill on west shore of Hempstead Harbor. By 1970 the landfill was as high as a ten storey building and was encroaching the harbor. The landfill was exp! anded many times over the years and has resulted in disastrous consequences. In summer of 1989 it was found that Hempstead Harbor had no oxygen in it and was devoid of marine life. The former landfill is now a Superfund site. The landfill sits where there once was water where my grandfather raced speedboats.

In 1986 the Town of North Hempstead proposed building a 990 TPD incinerator and decided to site it and its ash landfill on the old landfill. DEC offered four million dollars from the 1972 Environmental Quality Bond Act to subsidize the incinerators construction cost. Twenty-one groups were granted intervener status by DEC and all opposed the incinerator. In 1988 two of the groups released a report prepared by Sound Resources Management Group of Seattle, Washington, which showed that recycling and composting would be cheaper and divert more from the waste stream than the proposed incinerator. The report stated that by adopting a non-incineration plan the town could reduce the amount going to landfill by 70% at a cost which would save the town $110 million in capital and finance charges. (6)

After spending millions of dollars trying to get approval for its construction, in August of 1990 the Town abandoned their efforts to build the incinerator and signed onto a non-incinerator plan that included a materials recover facility, bulky waste recycling, yard waste composting and food waste composting. The intensely offensive odor emanating from the landfill, which permeates a seven mile radius, may never go away, though.

Every citizen and all municipalities who are truly concerned with reducing the enormous quantity of solid waste that we all contribute to should aggressively practice the three Rs. The three Rs are: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse (waste). Two important recycling studies were completed by Dr. Barry Commoner, Director of the Center for the Biology of Natural ! Systems at Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. (The mere mention of Dr. Commoner by an audience member attending the Save the Pine Bush dinner visibly made Mr. Lauber cringe and moan, as if pained by the sound of the father of the environmental movement’s name.)

One study was completed for the Town of East Hampton, L.I., N.Y., and the other was for the City of Buffalo, N.Y. Both studies showed that when communities engage in aggressive recycling programs, the results in savings and of waste stream reduction are profound. “In fact, the East Hampton study showed that ordinary people, using existing technology could recycle 84% of their trash. The East Hampton study also showed that recycling is 35% cheaper than incineration.” (1) “In the case of Buffalo, the local economy would receive $12 million more per year from a recycling program than it would from an incinerator, even though the total cost of the recycling program would be less than the total cost of incineration.” (1)

Lafarge’s Ravena cement plant is seeking a modification to their Title V air quality permit from DEC to allow them to burn approximately five million whole tires a year in their kilns in order to reduce their fuel costs by 15%. This appears to be the first step they’ve taken towards reaching their true goal, which, I believe, is to eventually burn garbage. Burning garbage will allow them to achieve an even greater fuel cost savings than that afforded by TDF. (Tire Derived Fuel)

This is another reason why, aside the obvious environmental issues raised by sighting a landfill in a floodplain a half mile from the Hudson River, on wetlands alongside the trout-spawning Onesquethaw/Coeymans Creek, I am strongly opposed to Albany’s proposed Coeymans landfill. If Albany is successful, it will be located on land adjacent to Lafarge’s Ravena cement plant.

Very tempting and much too close to this inexpensive and potentially unending “fuel” source for my comfort.

Please refer to my second attachment. It is an article from an industry newspaper, Solid Waste and Recycling, first published in November 2005 and entitled “Ontario cement plant to burn tires, garbage”. The solid waste industry always comes up with catchy phrases like “Waste to Energy” or “Refuse Derived Fuel” (RDF) to make the burning of garbage derived fuel sound more appealing. I wonder why they didn’t choose to use GDF to describe it?

Camille Cagnon of Lafarge’s Ravena cement plant announced at a DEC public hearing last August that Albany is using Lafarge’s waste cement kiln dust (CKD) as a ground cover at the Rapp Road landfill. This, in part, is collected from what they call the “Bag Room”. The bag room is where all of the accumulated waste attracted by their electrostatic precipitators is periodically collected and then landf! illed onsite. Electrostatic Precipitators are pollution control devices that attract a portion of the toxic chemicals contained in the kilns’ exhaust gases as they travel up the plant’s smokestack before escaping into the atmosphere. Dioxins are a family of more than 200 toxic chemicals. Some are so dangerous to human health that there is virtually no safe exposure level for humans. Exposure to dioxins is measured in picograms – Trillionths of a gram.

(28 grams equal one ounce.)
One picogram = 1 / 1,000,000,000,000g

According to the EPA, as reported to them by Lafarge, the annual output of the CKD material currently being landfilled on Lafarge’s property contains more than ten tons of lead compounds and eleven pounds of mercury compounds. (7), (8), (9)

Dioxins are produced by the heating of some materials used in manufacturing cement. Aside from those that escape into the atmosphere, where do ! the dioxins and other toxic chemicals that are captured by the electrostatic precipitators go?
They go into the Cement Kiln Dust.

While it may not be known to many, the City of Albany has recently spent nearly seven million dollars in order to utilize the shallow aquifer under the Pine Bush as an emergency water supply in case of a catastrophic failure to their established water supply system. (10) Albany’s daily water supply is drawn from the Alcove Reservoir which is located in the Town of Coeymans, the very same town in which they want to site their mega-dump.

It makes little sense to me that Albany’s Rapp Road landfill was located atop a shallow aquifer to begin with and it seems that now Albany may be increasing the chances of poisoning their emergency water supply by utilizing CKD as a ground cover at the Rapp Road landfill. Why, you may ask, is Albany using polluted CKD for a ground cover instead of clean dirt?
Because it’s cheaper than dirt.

Albany should cease and desist from this unhealthy practice immediately.

“According to EPA, the major sources of dioxins in 1995 were municipal garbage incinerators (1100 grams, 36% of the national total); medical waste incinerators (477 grams, 16%); cement kilns burning hazardous waste (153 grams, 5%)…” (11)

My third attachment is entitled “Electrostatic Precipitators Breed Dioxins” and was published by Waste Not. I think the title of this paper speaks for itself, but please read it if you feel as Jack Lauber does, that incineration is a good way to deal with the solid waste we all produce.

If you need more convincing evidence that incinerators are financial disasters, please read about the troubled nearby Hudson Falls incinerator. (12)

The fourth and last document I’ve attached is entitled “More Heat Than Light“, which was published in July 2005 and was co-authored by Environmental Advocates of New York. Although it deals with power plants in the northeast whose primary fuel source is coal and not solid waste, it does contain information relevant to the issue of how stack emissions contribute to pollution and Global Warming.

Waste Not, a publication of Work on Waste ceased publication in 2000, but their library is still available online. (13)

Please be sure to check out their newsletters, most of which deal with incineration.

More excellent information on recycling can be found at the Zero Waste America, an online resource with many references for citizens and governments dealing with solid waste. (14)

One of the best papers dealing with landfill issues I’ve read that doesn’t use difficult to understand scientific terminology is entitled “Environmental Impacts of Alternative Approaches for Municipal Solid Waste Management: An Overview” and was authored by Dr. G. Fred Lee, et al. (15) Dr. Lee’s website has more information on landfills and the three Rs. (16) G. Fred Lee and Associates work is internationally recognized.

My first footnote refers you to an issue of Environmental Research Foundation’s publication, Rachel’s Democracy and Health News. The Environmental Research Foundation was founded in 1980 by Dr. Peter Montague and remains one best sources for environmental pollution. Dr. Montague and his foundation’s work are well known internationally. I always try to save the best for last! I have provided a link to the index for Rachel’s Back issues. (17) You will find after my last footnote links to several articles I recommend you read from Rachel’s back issues.

I have provided you with many resources, perhaps too many, but plea! se find the time to look at this information. We can’t win any environmental battles unless we’re well armed with facts. I hope this helps you come to the same conclusions I have regarding incineration, and that Albany’s continued dumping of garbage in the sensitive Pine Bush is probably creating a Superfund site there, and that Albany’s chosen location in Coeymans is an inappropriate site for a landfill.

(1) – Rachel’s Democracy and Health News – (Formerly Rachel’s Environment and Health News) – A publication of the Environmental Research Foundation
Issue #121- ‘Incineration vs. Recycling‘, March 21, 1989:

The East Hampton Study:
Rachel’s Democracy and Health News Issue #108 – ‘Recycling Breakthrough Reported‘, December 19, 1988:

(2) – Rachel’s Democracy and Health News Issue # 351 – ‘‘Wall Street Journal’ Warns Its Readers: Incinerators Are Financial Disasters“, August 19, 1993

(3) – City of Albany Information Bulletin 1/20/06 Rapp Road Landfill Expansion

(4) – Work on Waste, Inc., Waste Not issue #386 – ‘In Japan’s Burnt Trash, Dioxin Threat’:

(5) – Waste Not Issue #318 – ‘The Great Incinerator Ash Scam – Part 4‘:

(6) – Waste Not Issue #126 – ‘North Hempstead, L.I., New York. Proposed 990 TPD Incinerator Defeated

(7) – Science News Article,

Make Mercury More Toxic

(8) – EPA’s Envirofacts page for Lafarge Ravena:
The Environmental Defense Fund’s Chemical Scorecard page for Lafarge Ravena

(9) – Rachel’s Democracy and Health News, Issue #314 – ‘Cement And Kiln Dust Contain Dioxins’, December 2, 1992:

(10) – The water level reached its lowest point in 2002, only 12 feet below the ground surface. It is currently at its high point of 5.5 feet below the ground surface. The test well is located on the SUNY Campus by Fuller Road.

(11) – Rachel’s Democracy and Health News, Issue #636 – ‘Dioxins — The View From Europe‘, February 04, 1999:

(12) – Work On Waste USA, Inc., Waste Not issue #194 – ‘Incinerators In Trouble: Part 3

(13) – Back issue index for Work On Waste USA, Inc. Waste Not:

(14) – http://www.zerowasteamerica.org/

(15) – “Environmental Impacts of Alternative Approaches for Municipal Solid Waste Management: An Overview“, By G. Fred Lee, et al.

(16) – G. Fred Lee & Associates, List of online articles

(17) – Environmental Research Foundation’s Index of Rachel’s back issues:

Recommended Reading:

# 37 – EPA Says All Landfills Leak, Even Those Using Best Available Liners, August 10

#116 – Analyzing Why All Landfills Leak, February 14, 1989

#117 – The Best Landfill Liner: HDPE, February 21, 1989

#119 – Leachate Collection Systems: The Achilles’ Heel Of Landfills, March 07, 1989

#125 – Clay Landfill Liners Leak In Ways That Surprise Landfill Designers, April 18, 1989

#226 – Toxic Gases Emitted From Landfills, March 27, 1991

#316 – New Evidence That All Landfills Leak, December 16, 1992
#617 – Landfills Are Dangerous, September 24, 1998

#131 – Fine Particles — Part 1: The Dangers Of Incineration, May 30, 1989

#192 – Incinerator Ash — Part 4: Dump Now, Let The Children Pay Later, August 01, 1990

#162 – Fine Particles — Part 5: Incineration Worsens Landfill Hazards, January 03, 1990

#787 – Land Use and Precaution, March 18, 2004

Welcome To Coeymans!

(Photos to be posted soon)

Albany’s View of Coeymans Future

This is what all travelers along the NYS Thruway, Rt 9W, and Rt 144 may be viewing as they are approaching or leaving Albany. It would be! visable from many miles away. You can only imagine the stench.

Below is what all boaters on the Hudson River as well as all travelers along the East side of the river may be viewing.

Please, Albany, don’t let this happen to Coeymans!
Most sincerely,
Jim Travers
Photos: Compliments of Zero Waste America
The first photo is of the G.R.O.W.S. landfill, located in a floodplain alongside the Delaware River in Falls Township, Bucks County, Pa.

The second photo is the Tullytown Landfill, and is also located in a floodplain alongside the Delaware River in Falls Township, Bucks County, Pa.

These two landfills are located very close to each other and are seperated only by a small body of water, which grows smaller every day. Waste Management Technologies, WMX, owns 6,000 acres of land here.

This is not what anyone with a conscience wants to see happen to Coeymans alongside the Hudson River.

Will this be the legacy of Albany’s Common Council?