The OCRRA trash incinerator, located at 5801 Rock Cut Road in Jamesville, is being questioned by the DACC for its possible relation to high rates of breast cancer in surrounding areas. (photo by Lauren Young)
After the DeWitt Advisory Conservation Commission (DACC) presented concerns surrounding the Covanta trash incinerator in Jamesville and its possible relation to high incidences of breast cancer to the DeWitt Town Board on July 9, a representative of the Onondaga County Resources Recovery Agency (OCRRA) has called their claims “erroneous” and “misleading.”
According to OCRRA Public Information Officer Kristen Lawton, the agency “does not agree with DACC’s assertion” regarding their claims of there being a possible relation between the incinerator’s emissions and breast cancer incidences in surrounding areas because environmental exposure is not considered a cause of breast cancer by the state Department of Health (DOH) and data conveyed by the DACC “does not show a pattern of increased breast cancer downwind of the WTE (waste-to-energy) facility in Jamesville.”
By contrast, Lawton said the incinerator is actually a “really excellent thing” for the community and is the best way to dispose of trash today.
“For as much trash that’s generated from the community, it’s one of the best,” said Lawton. This Jamesville plant in particular, she said, has “one of the strictest permits in the nation.”
“The NYSDEC [state Department of Environmental Conservation] and USEPA [U.S Environmental Protection Agency] prefer waste-to-energy over landfilling as a method of trash disposal and the local facility has a long history of outstanding operations,” said Lawton. “It has stayed within permit limits – and well below permit limits for most parameters – even with one of the strictest set of permit requirements in the nation.”
The waste management plant, located at 5801 Rock Cut Road in Jamesville, began commercial operation in February 1995 and controls the waste flow in Onondaga County and the greater Syracuse region— processing up to 990 tons per day of municipal solid waste and generating up to 39.5 megawatts of renewable energy sold to National Grid.
According to the OCRRA website, these waste-to-energy facilities reduce the amount of material needed to be landfilled by 90 percent, and emissions are monitored by “state-of-the-art pollution control technologies” with oversight by the DEC.
Concerns about the incinerator from the DACC were first addressed at a meeting on May 2, where they welcomed DEC representatives Matt Polge and Kevin Kelly to discuss the high rate of breast cancer incidences in Jamesville and its possible relation to the Covanta incinerator.
Gordon Heisler, member of DACC and the tree committee, presented Polge and Kelly with two maps indicating how the trash incinerator may be related to these cancer incidences in the Jamesville area with research based on weather data collected from an onsite tower, the breast cancer registry from the state DOH, predicted emissions emitted from the incinerator stack and where the greatest impacts of it are in surrounding area codes.
“That stands to reason, though,” said Polge during the May 2 meeting, as he explained how, at 200 feet in the air, pollutants raise to the highest point.
“Metrology is very complex,” he said, adding that other area pollutants, like Lockheed Martin or surrounding power plants, could also be possible influences.
Regarding breast cancer rates, Lawton said that the state DOH does not identify environmental exposures, such as emissions, as a risk factor for breast cancer. Rather, the department identifies age, family history, genetics, personal history, hormonal factors, not breastfeeding, hormone use, personal behaviors and exposure to ionizing radiation, especially early exposure to high levels to the chest area, early in life as factors that could increase one’s risk of developing cancer.
According to data compiled from the DACC, between 2005 and 2009 the state cancer registry showed that there were 61 breast cancer diagnoses in residents of the 13078 zip code — 50 percent higher than the expected incidence — over a five-year period.
But according to Lawton, that information is outdated, and the expected incidence of breast cancer is more like 20 percent below expected, according to 2010 to 2014 data from the state DOH.
According to this more recent data, Lawton said it does not show a “readily identifiable geographic pattern to higher levels of breast cancer incidence in Onondaga County.”
Lawton said there is also not “an apparent persistent ‘hot spot’ around the WTE facility that we might expect if higher breast cancer rates were even correlated with a specific emissions source (which they are not).”
Looking at the previous data, Lawton said that the 2005 to 2009 map shows the incidence of breast cancer “50 percent or greater than expected for zip codes 13120 (Nedrow) and 13110 (Marietta) that are located generally to the [southwest and south-southwest] of the facility.” According to analysis of wind directions conducted during initial facility permitting, Lawton said these areas would be downwind of the facility approximately “two percent and one percent of the time, respectively.”
When it comes to field testing, Lawton said that “extensive testing is already taking place” and “results have shown for 23 years that the facility is operating well below permit limits.”
Additional testing, she said, “would be duplicative and costly to tax payers.”
Since the facility began operations in 1994, Lawton said that the annual monitoring has been performed by an independent engineering firm that specializes in WTE operations, with oversight by the DEC and OCRRA.
“This independent engineering firm must certify that all testing was completed in accordance with the test procedures and is staking their professional reputation that this is the case, putting themselves at risk of severe penalty for any deviations in test procedures,” said Lawton.
In regards to monitoring emissions regularly, Lawton said that the facility is equipped with a continuous emissions monitoring system (CEMS), which “gives real time readings for various parameters 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
“This equipment is calibrated daily and must meet the stringent reliability and accuracy limits required by the USEPA,” said Lawton.
Both the real-time and third-party reviewed annual air emissions, as well as independently reviewed semi-annual ash testing, are submitted to the DEC, said Lawton.
“For the life of the facility (23 years), it has been in complete compliance with the Title V Air Permit,” she added.
Third-party test results of these tests can be found at ocrra.org/about-us/information/reports-and-policies/.
Additionally, field testing conducted by Onondaga County has been “ongoing since 1994” and “no hazardous parameters have been detected.”
The County Legislature elected to scale back this testing some years back because “there was no evidence of impact on human health nor the environment,” said Lawton. “That being said, I encourage folks to continue to ask questions and also be aware of the following verifiable facts.”
After Chair of the DACC Dennis Payne shared the commission’s concerns with the board on July 9, Supervisor Ed Michalenko said he would format their statements into a letter to send to the county executive and legislature, as well as state legislators, to respond to the DACC’s concerns.
Reporter for the Eagle Bulletin and Cazenovia Republican.