By Patrick Daley, Chronicle Staff Writer
“My life goal is to shut down all the incinerators in this country. I think we’re going to pull that off,” said attorney and environmental activist Mike Ewall at a program at Crandall Public Library on Monday, May 6.
Mr. Ewall founded the Philadelphia-based Energy Justice Network, which says it supports grassroots groups fighting “dirty energy.” His public program entitled “How Dangerous is Glens Falls Air?,” sponsored by local group the Clean Air Action Network, drew 65 people.
Clean Air Action Network founder Tracy Frisch of Argyle said, “Our goal as an organization is to reduce air pollution and protect human health and the environment.”
Mr. Ewall named Finch Paper and Lehigh Cement in Glens Falls and the Wheelabrator trash incinerator in Hudson Falls as the top three local air polluters, respectively. Citing 2014 Environmental Protection Agency data, he said that the three companies account for 90% of industrial pollution in the Glens Falls area.
Mr. Ewall called for shutdown of the Wheelabrator incinerator, saying it is the “most winnable” local cause for environmental activists.
“There are ready alternatives,” he said. “This is an old facility that is likely to shut down soon anyway. And it’s the most winnable. It’s not like it’s unreasonable to think that you should be looking for alternatives to this and shutting it down soon like other communities are doing.
“There are not that many jobs there,” Mr. Ewall said. “With cement kilns and paper mills, there is still the issue of ‘Well, maybe the product is still needed.’ There is a very clear case for why the incinerator should be closed down,” he said.
He added, “No one in this community that I’ve heard from so far is campaigning to close down Finch Paper or close down Lehigh Cement.”
Wheelabrator had not replied by press-time to an e-mail seeking comment.
Mr. Ewall said the EPA data shows that Wheelabrator emitted 26 pounds of mercury in 2014, termed one of the most toxic known pollutants. Lehigh Cement emitted 25 pounds; Finch Paper emitted 2 pounds. Thus, Mr. Ewall says shutting down Wheelabrator would eliminate 40% of mercury emissions, and very significant portions of lead and hydrochloric acid emissions.
The World Health Organization says mercury “can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal.”
Mr. Ewall said New York has 10 of the 72 active incinerators in the United States, second most to Florida, and that there was a peak of 180 incinerators operating during the early 1990s. No new incinerators have been built since 1995, he said.
The average life span of an incinerator is 28 years, which is the exact age of the Wheelabrator incinerator, said Mr. Ewall.
He cited cost and lack of jobs as more reasons to shut down the incinerator. “It’s not worth investing in this old machine to keep it going when it’s just going to get more expensive to operate as it falls apart.”
Mr. Ewall presented employment data showing that incinerators and landfills provide one job per 10,000 pounds of processed material annually. He said that recycling facilities require 10 times the manpower, and material reuse facilities up to 300 times the manpower.
One root of the problem of toxins and pollution in the air is burning waste, said Mr. Ewall. He said the solution is to eliminate waste and that his strategy is to normalize recycling, composting and reuse.
“It’s not about personal virtue,” he said. “We need to make it easy for everyone to do this. We need to have the systems in place so that people have composting at home, so that when you go to a store, everything is not over-packaged. There are models that we can bring to every community to institutionalize this so that it’s not hard for people.”
Mr. Ewall said a big difference in normalizing waste reduction can be made by simple psychological tweaks, such as charging for trash but not for recycling and compost. He said having small trash cans, larger compost cans and largest recycling cans would also be effective.
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