Citizens Environment Alliance
April 15, 2003

CEA Opposes Detroit Waste Incinerator Renewable Operating Permit

Windsor, Ontario - The Citizens Environment Alliance has filed a letter of opposition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the renewal of the operating permit of the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility (Detroit Municipal Waste Incinerator).

The CEA urged the EPA to reject the renewable operating permit of the incinerator and requested that the EPA require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to:

"The Detroit incinerator has been a significant local source of smog causing emissions, greenhouse gas emissions and toxic contaminants like mercury for a decade and a half," said Derek Coronado, Research and Policy Coordinator of the Citizens Environment Alliance. "We have been living with this legal source of toxic air pollution for far too long. We need to ban the burn," said Coronado.

The Detroit Municipal Waste Incinerator is the largest incinerator of its type in the United States. It currently burns approximately 2,000 tons of city residential and commercial garbage everyday and generates approximately 3,600,000 pounds per year (1.63 million kg) of toxic metals, acid gasses and other hazardous emissions, including dioxin and mercury.

For more information contact:

Derek Coronado
Research and Policy Coordinator,
Citizens Environment Alliance
(519) 973-1116

Detroit's Waste Incinerator

The Detroit Municipal Waste Incinerator (Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility) can burn up to 3,600 tons (3,273 tonnes) of garbage per day - the largest in the United States. Currently two furnaces burn approximately 2,000 tons of residential and commercial garbage every day - approximately 730,000 tons (663,636 tonnes) each year.


The incinerator emits 3,600,000 lbs. or 1,636,364 kg per year (4.5 tonnes per day) of toxic metals, including mercury, acid gasses and persistent pollutants such as dioxin under a State of Michigan permit. The facility is located approximately 6 km. from downtown Windsor.

Health Impacts

Persistent Pollutants: Dioxins, furans, and mercury, are examples of pollutants that can persist in the environment increasing the risk of harmful environmental impacts. Incinerators contribute a substantial amount of the total U.S. emission of these pollutants.

Dioxin: persists in the environment and bioaccumulates in the food chain. Dioxin is the most toxic substance known and may cause cancer in humans, damage to the hormone and immune systems. Dioxin has been found in several fish species in the Great Lakes. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) incinerators are the most significant source of dioxin emissions in the United States. Emissions of dioxin from MSWs are dropping due to better emission controls and, primarily due to the closure of several dozen facilities across the United States.

Mercury: When released into the environment mercury persists in groundwater and surfacewater and accumulates to dangerous levels in the fish that Americans and Canadians eat. The Detroit River is contaminated by mercury. Mercury can cause significant neurological damage and birth defects, developmental and cognitive impairment.

Lead, cadmium: other toxic metals are emitted from the incineration process. These toxins can attack human organs such as the liver, lungs and kidneys. Lead also damages children's cognitive abilities. Children living near the Detroit waste incinerator have the highest lead blood levels in the state and 40% of children under 6 living near the incinerator have elevated lead blood levels.

Acid gasses (sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and nitrogen oxides): these substances contribute to the formation of acid rain and smog. These substances can increase the rate and severity of respiratory problems, e.g. asthma attacks. In addition to harming lungs and the cardiovascular system these substances contribute to crop losses and damage to buildings and structures.

Particulate matter: another incinerator emission that contributes to the formation of smog. Particulate matter can contribute to lung and cardiovascular disease and trigger asthma attacks. Children living near the incinerator are hospitalized for asthma at 3 times the average rate in Michigan.

Other Impacts

Toxic Fly Ash: because incineration creates ash and the compounds in the ash are toxic, the ash must be landfilled in a specialized landfill. Ironically, the more efficient the pollution control equipment the more toxic the fly ash becomes. While emission controls have been able to reduce overall dioxin emissions to the air, there is no evidence that overall dioxin releases (fly ash, bottom ash, and other residues) have decreased. The Detroit incinerator creates over 200,000 tons (181,818 tonnes) of toxic ash per year.

Financial Cost: by substituting incineration with a comprehensive recycling and composting program and limited reliance on landfilling for disposal Detroit could save $25 million per year. Recycling could improve the separation of hazardous materials from the waste stream to ensure a more environmentally sound disposal option.

(with thanks to: Anna Holden, Sierra Club; Rob Cedar, Hamtramck Environmental Action Team; Brad van Guilder, Ecology Center)