According to the Statesman Journal, Marion County Commissioners are set to open the floodgates to out-of-state medical waste (up to 30 million pounds per year of biohazardous or infectious waste and up to 20 million pounds of non-hazardous medical waste) at their monthly meeting on Wednesday morning, June 29th at 9:00 A.M., more than doubling the amount of medical waste currently incinerated at the Brooks facility. This is important to local communities because incineration of medical waste is a source of dioxin and heavy metals, including mercury and cadmium.
Why is increasing the amount of dioxins released into the atmosphere from the incinerator in Burns, Oregon (or anywhere) a lousy idea?
According to the World Health Organization:
- Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants (POPs).
- Dioxins are found throughout the world in the environment and they accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals. (Like it or not, you are an animal.)
- More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish.
- Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. (Fetuses, infants, young children and people with compromised immunity are among those most sensitive to dioxins. Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher an animal is in the food chain, the higher the concentration of dioxins.)
- Due to the omnipresence of dioxins, all people have background exposure, which is not expected to affect human health. However, due to the highly toxic potential, efforts need to be undertaken to reduce current background exposure.
- Prevention or reduction of human exposure is best done via source-directed measures, i.e. strict control of industrial processes to reduce formation of dioxins.
And if all that weren’t enough, according to the EPA, dioxins can get into drinking water from emissions from waste incineration and other combustion that get deposited into bodies of water.
And don’t forget that Marion County will be responsible for disposing of the ash left after incineration. All that residual material will be dumped in Marion County landfills where it will likely reside for lifetimes or until some man-made accident or act of God creates an environmental disaster.
With so much at stake, should the citizens of Marion and surrounding counties trust Covanta Energy Corporation, who was recently assessed a $2.3 million dollar fine by Utah state regulators after its incinerator there exceeded pollution limits. According to the Statesman, Covanta was accused of rigging a stack test.
There will be those who say that medical waste is dangerous and it needs to be processed somewhere, that “not in my backyard” is an irresponsible position. But I believe that if we as a people, stop making it profitable, easy, and cheap for companies to produce and dispose of products that are damaging to the environment and dangerous to human health, those same companies would be motivated to find solutions that are less toxic.
If, on Wednesday, Marion County Commissioners end up celebrating a deal they’ve made with Covanta as an increased source of easy cash, the rest of us might want to reconsider “going local” when we purchase foods, especially Willamette Valley foods high on the food chain like dairy products, fish and meat.
World Health Organization Media Center Fact Sheet: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/:
EPA (Environmental Protection Agency): https://www.epa.gov/dioxin/learn-about-dioxin