The News Tribune (N.J.)
Friday, December 29, 1989

I was proud of this story because I had gotten a sense of untrustworthiness from the company officials involved and the way this incinerator plan was hustled through the council, so I decided on a hunch to check out the background of the company proposing it.

My instinct was right -- immediately, I started finding out about the environmental problems connected with the other plants connected with the firm. The information I uncovered was repeatedly cited by residents in the ensuing political confrontation, and the council eventually reversed its vote on the plant.

Model sludge burner had mercury problem

Firm: Carteret plant different


CARTERET The Minnesota plant that is a model for a sludge incinerator proposed for Carteret was found to be "the major source" of mercury in lakes and a river in the Lake Superior area.

    But an official of Labov Associates of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., says that the same cannot happen with the Carteret plant his company wants to build.

    A study being delivered to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified waste water from the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District plant in Duluth, Minn., as "the major source" of mercury discharged into the St. Louis River.

    Because of the mercury, fish consumption advisories have been issued in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

    The incinerator was built by Copetech of Oak Brook, Ill., which Labov acquired three years ago.

Labov flew Carteret councilmen Joseph Sitarz, Thaddeus Szczesny, and Rosario Bonavita to Duluth to inspect the plant there, but apparently did not tell them about the mercury discharge. Labov Executive Vice President Francis Campbell said he did not about the mercury until yesterday.

    He said the council members had to tour the plant on a Saturday because of their work obligations during the week. "We didn't have the benefit of having a tour from the plant engineer," he said.

    Bonavita voted with Robert A. Hedesh on Dec. 18 to allow Labov to start the permit process that could lead to an incinerator in Carteret. Karen Fedroff and Stanley Leniart voted against the proposal. Mayor Peter J. Sica broke the tie in favor of granting permission. Sitarz and Szczesny were not present, but said they favor the proposal.

Most of the mercury coming from the Duluth burner was traced to its fuel source, known as "refuse-derived fuel" or RDF -- a processed form of municipal garbage -- and from waste water flowing into the plant, said Marvin Hora of the Minnesota Division of Water Quality. He was project manager for the study. RDF typically contains batteries, paint, and other household sources of mercury.

    Campbell said he would not expect a similar problem at the proposed Carteret burner because RDF would not be used as fuel.

    "We have a patent process that allows us to take a part of the sludge stream and put it into a 'fluid bed' dryer; we then reinject that dried sludge," Campbell said. "The combustion of that sludge with the dried sludge requires no fuel."

    The Carteret plant would need only start-up fuel, which would be oil or gas, Campbell said.

    Hora said this week that the waste water may have been tainted by the burner itself, so it may not have represented an independent source of mercury.

    "The incinerator was a significant contributor of mercury to the waste-water treatment plant, which, in turn, discharged it to the St. Louis River," Hora said.

    He added that "scrubber water" from scrubbers that reduce the contaminants from gas emissions in the incinerator's smokestack also released mercury into the environment.

    The incinerator also emitted significant amounts of mercury into the air, and it tainted rainfall in the region, Hora said. "The main source of mercury to the lakes in the area is from atmospheric sources," he said.

    The Duluth plant was designed and built by Copetech, and is owned and operated by the municipal authority.

Trouble also has been reported in connection with an Atlantic County Utilities Authority sludge incinerator built by Copetech, though Labov does not operate it.

    According to copyright articles in The Press of Atlantic City this spring, hazardous sludge ash from the burner has leached from landfills into adjacent wetlands.

    Campbell said that Labov and Copetech have built more than 70 incinerators nationwide, but have never operated one themselves. Labov is proposing to own and operate the Carteret plant.

    Bonavita said that the reports do not give him doubts about the company's ability to build a safe plant in Carteret.

    "They gave us a presentation, and they gave us a booklet on all the other plants they have built," he said. "It gives a breakdown on all the stuff that goes into the air."

    However, he said that Carteret officials had not contacted municipal or environmental authorities for information about any of the plants. And he asked the public to volunteer any information about possible hazards of such a burner.

    "Like I told the public at the meeting, if they have information that this isn't going to be a viable plant, then they should show it to us," he said.

    He said there would be many other hearings before a final approval could be granted.

    "People say, 'You let their foot into the door,' but we own the door and we can slam it shut," he said.