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Say No to Incineration in Canada

incinerationBy Linda Gasser, PCN Anti-Incineration Campaign Coordinator

A comprehensive cancer prevention strategy means reducing exposure to carcinogenic substances at every opportunity. Dioxins are known carcinogens and Health Canada states that the large scale burning of municipal and medical waste is the biggest source of dioxin generation in Canada. Prevent Cancer Now (PCN) is working to raise awareness of the links between incineration and cancer. We have produced an “Incineration Toolkit” to help citizens to take action. This work is timely because the number of incineration proposals in Canada is escalating.

Right now, Durham Region (Southern Ontario) and Metro Vancouver are actively considering mass-burn incineration proposals. Red Deer (Alberta), Port Hope (Southern Ontario) and the City of Ottawa are considering plasma arc gasification technologies – also known as “incinerators in disguise” – for their communities.

Links Between Incineration and Cancer

Even the most technologically advanced incinerators, including pyrolysis and gasification incinerators, release dioxins and other hazardous pollutants in the form of air emissions, incinerator ash and water scrubber effluents. Dioxins are recognized as a Class 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for the Research on Cancer. The links between incineration and cancer are becoming clearer. Studies in the United Kingdom found an increased risk of childhood cancer, childhood leukemia, and solid tumors of all kinds among children living near incinerators. Studies in France, Japan, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Sweden found that people living near incinerators had a cluster of soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; a two-fold cancer risk; increases in laryngeal cancer; increases in lung cancer or lung cancer mortality; and generally higher risks of all cancers but specifically of stomach, colorectal, liver, and lung cancer.

Incinerator workers in Italy, the U.S., and Sweden had significantly higher gastric cancer mortality, a high prevalence of hypertension and excessive deaths from lung cancer and heart disease. In addition to the many health concerns, incineration is a very expensive and inflexible option for managing waste.

PCN’s Toolkit

To help communities better understand the problems of waste combustion, PCN’s toolkit will help citizens facing incineration identify the issues and potential impacts to their community. It contains:

  • fact sheets on the links between incineration and cancer
  • a list of resources about incineration and Zero Waste alternatives
  • a directory of groups and individuals in Canada working on incineration or “Zero Waste” issues.
Zero Waste is a comprehensive strategy with policies and initiatives that address waste reduction, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), diversion through recycling, reuse, repair and composting, and encouragement for clean production and design of products with the environment and human health in mind. These policies would move us from “waste management” problems to “materials management” opportunities.

Show your Opposition to Incineration

The health impacts of incineration are of such concern that we are urging federal, provincial, territorial, regional and municipal governments to phase out all current incinerators and prohibit future proposals. In our “Sign-on Statement” we are calling on Canadian governments to adopt a healthy and sustainable resource management policy for the 21st century that puts priority on waste reduction and materials reuse through comprehensive recycling, composting and producer take-back programs for discards.

We invite all Canadians, including community groups and non-governmental organizations, to sign our “Sign-on Statement” and forward this to their political representatives at all levels of government.

Success Stories

Canadian communities are already engaged and there have been several recent success stories on the incineration front. We are confident these will grow in number as citizens learn more about incineration and become engaged in community efforts to reject incineration and adopt safer and more sustainable alternatives such as Zero Waste.

For example, last summer, the Regional Municipality of Niagara (Southern Ontario) terminated their “Waste Plan” environmental assessment study, which they undertook together with the City of Hamilton. Niagara Region plans to focus on maximizing waste reduction and diversion opportunities. However, a news article confirms that “Incineration remains a viable option for City” of Hamilton.

This past October, Plasco Energy Group of Ottawa withdrew its plasma arc gasification proposal after Port Moody (British Columbia) residents, the municipal council and a committee did their due diligence. Citizens mobilized to inform their community and decision-makers about the impacts and risks of incineration and it appears that Plasco withdrew its proposal rather than have it rejected by council.

A number of community and non-governmental organizations successfully challenged Lafarge Cement’s attempts to burn tires at its cement kiln in Bath, Ontario.
Another cement company in Ontario (St. Mary’s Cement) is seeking approvals to burn a variety of waste materials including plastic film while promoting these wastes as “alternative fuels”. You can read more about the Lafarge decision here.

International Zero Waste Conference

PCN is one of the partners that assisted the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) with planning a conference for the U.S and Canada Zero Waste Communities, held in Detroit, Michigan on February 6-9, 2009. The purpose of the event was to strengthen movements in Canada and the United States to stop incinerator projects and eliminate the need for landfills as we move towards a Zero Waste future. Eighty to one hundred individuals came together to gain technical expertise, network and share successful strategies. For more information, visit the conference website. A conference report will be posted on the PCN website soon.

We are confident that as Canadians learn about the risks associated with waste incineration – particularly the links to cancer – they will want to adopt a healthier approach to waste reduction and materials management. We hope the PCN toolkit will help move Canada towards a healthier future for current and future generations.