ATSDR Fails Community Once Again


In July of 2013, an explosion occurred at the WTI/Heritage Thermal Services (HTS) hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, OH. Incinerator ash that had built up on the inside of the incinerator stack suddenly fell off causing a huge cloud of dust contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic substances to be released from the stack. An estimated 800 to 900 pounds of ash were released into the surrounding community. The plant manager advised residents to wash fruits and vegetables from their gardens and to replace food and water for pets and farm animals. Save Our County, a local group that has been fighting to shut down the incinerator for more than 20 years and other local residents were quite alarmed by what happened and asked whether this latest accident further put their health at risk.

The state regulating agency’s response was to invite the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to evaluate what risks the residents might have suffered. More than a year later, ATSDR released its report which concluded that the “trace amount of toxic metals in the surface and subsurface soils of the residential area west of the HTS facility affected by the July 2013 ash release are not expected to harm people’s health. The reason for this is that the concentration of these metals found in the soils are below levels of health concern.”

It’s not clear how ATSDR came to this conclusion when some of the data included in the report clearly show contaminant levels that exceeded levels of health concern. Two (of 13) soil samples, one on-site and one off-site, both downwind, had the highest levels of contaminants of concern (though they never disclosed what these levels were). The arsenic levels found in the surface soil of the surrounding community generally exceeded public health levels of concern, ranging from 14 to 57 parts per million (ppm), averaging 20 ppm. The public health level of concern is 15 ppm.

There is also data on two wipe samples (of 8) collected by HTS immediately after the accident that were found to contain 3,600 ppm arsenic; 13,000 ppm lead and 8,000 ppm nickel. These samples were collected from areas on-site where trucks at the facility were staged. These are all extraordinarily high and well above public health levels of concern.

Similarly, two wipe samples collected from the community had arsenic levels at 277 ppm and lead at 819 ppm, both levels well in excess of levels of public health concern. The report refers to a third sample collected from the surface of a black S10 pick-up truck with arsenic at 296 ppm and lead at 1,046 ppm also well above public health levels of concern.

Despite all of these results that exceeded public health levels of concern, ATSDR concluded that there is no cause for alarm and that the toxic metals released into the community “is not expected” to harm people’s health. It’s like someone at ATSDR wrote the conclusion without ever reading the report or looking at the data.

The ATSDR report simply ignores the data that exceeds public health levels of concern and draws its conclusions as though these high levels did not exist. How can anyone trust a government agency that operates this way?

This is what communities across the country have grown to expect from ATSDR – conclusions that are unresponsive to community concerns about potential health risks but protective of industrial pollution. Some things never change.


Garbage Incinerators Make Comeback, Kindling Both Garbage and Debate


By Timothy Williams
New York Times
11 January 2015

With landfills shunned, recycling programs stalled and the country’s record-setting trash output unyielding, new waste-to-energy plants are being eyed as a path to salvation. Facilities common in Europe are under consideration in Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia, Wisconsin and elsewhere. And in Florida, the nation’s first new commercial garbage incinerator in 20 years is about to be fired up. 

Environmental groups oppose them, saying that although cleaner than the incinerators of the past, waste-to-energy plants still emit mercury, lead, dioxins and a variety of other toxic substances. And the history of incineration offers a cautionary tale, producing alarm among some who live nearby.

Read more at Environmental Health News.

The Toxic Merry-Go-Round – Burning Air Pollution Control Filters


In the latest version of the toxic merry-go-round, the incinerator company Wheelabrator admitted that it routinely burns its air pollution control filters loaded with toxic chemicals with its incoming trash. These are the baghouse filters that capture dust particles generated by the burning process and are packed with heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, and dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals ever tested.

Public hearings were held this summer when 31 local residents appealed the state’s decision to extent the permit for the Wheelabrator trash incinerator in Claremont, NH. During the hearings, Work on Waste (WOW), a local community-based group that has been fighting to shut down the incinerator since it opened 27 years ago, stated that Wheelabrator’s permit violations included burning nearly 12,500 filters between 1995 and 2010. During this time Wheelabrator applied for a permit renewal, but failed to mention that they were burning the filter bags. Wheelabrator’s defense is that burning the filters is a common practice in the incineration industry. Read more >