My name is Marilyn Lynch, and I serve as the Executive Director of the Waste-To-Energy Association.
The Association appreciates the November 16 opinion piece in the River Journal. “The Municipal Solid Waste Conundrum,” which presents a complex issue that we hope to come together to solve. The author was correct to note that moving away from WIN Waste/Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plant in Peekskill would have negative environmental consequences, and some of her points deserve elaboration.
Landfills produce methane, a greenhouse gas that has a global warming potential of more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years. By diverting hundreds of thousands of tons of post-recycled waste from landfills, and the tractor-trailer trips to get it there, and converting it into renewable energy, the Wheelabrator/WIN Waste facility at Peekskill eliminates vast amounts of future greenhouse gas emissions.
The author correctly points out that the Peekskill WTE facility reduces the amount of municipal solid waste that needs to be handled in Westchester County. Without the facility, nearly 630,000 tons of waste would need to be disposed of in out-of-state landfills by fossil fuel-powered tractor-trailers and the negative environmental impact would be substantial.
The ash resulting from Wheelabrator/WIN Waste’s process is not coal ash, as the article states. No coal is used in the waste-to-energy combustion process. Instead, the resulting MSW ash is non-hazardous, as demonstrated by year after year of testing in accordance with strict U.S. Environmental Protection Agency protocols. Further, the location of the WIN Waste ash monofill in Putnam, Connecticut, was identified and endorsed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The WIN Waste monofill is state-of-the-art; it consists of multiple layers of geosynthetic materials that prevent the movement of ash and/or ash contact water from entering the surrounding environment. It is surrounded by a network of ecological monitoring stations that regularly test groundwater, surface water, and river sediment. More than 20 years of testing at this site have revealed zero adverse impacts to the ecosystem.
The article raises questions of health impact but WIN Waste/Wheelabrator Westchester emits less than what both the federal EPA and the even stricter State of New York standards allow: An air quality impact analysis conducted as part of Wheelabrator’s Title V permitting process that the facility’s levels are significantly below the air quality levels set by the state to protect human health and the environment. The analysis also revealed that the impacts of greenhouse gas co-pollutants on disadvantaged communities, including the City of Peekskill, are significantly below N.Y. DEC guidelines, with the average impact being less than 0.5% of state air quality standards.
Numerous other health risk assessments in the United States and globally have consistently demonstrated that modern waste-to-energy facilities have no adverse impact on the environment or human health — even among the most at-risk groups. For example, a 2021 review of scientific industry studies conducted by the City College of New York’s Grove School of Engineering provides an exhaustive assessment of waste-to-energy processes’ influences on public and environmental health. “The Scientific Truth about Waste to Energy,” by City College Professor & Chemical Engineering Department Chair Marco J. Castaldi, Ph.D., was peer-reviewed by subject matter experts from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, North Carolina State University, and State University of New York-Stony Brook, among others. One of its key findings: “The longstanding and well-documented scientific consensus is that human health is not adversely affected by WTE (waste to energy).”
Industry opponents draw a correlation between Peekskill’s waste-to-energy operations and unhealthy air quality, but that is misleading and draws attention away from the actual leading source of unhealthy air in the region — vehicle emissions. The majority of Hudson River Valley’s air pollution, like other areas of the Northeast, derives from motor vehicles and, to some extent, long-distance transport of air pollution from upwind neighboring states. Subject matter experts around the world agree that TRAP — traffic-related air pollution — is the most significant source of air pollution that people in urban areas breathe. Westchester County WTE emissions are a tiny portion in comparison to that of vehicular traffic and upwind state contributions. In fact, the facility’s proximity to the local communities that rely on our waste management services helps reduce vehicular traffic by eliminating heavy truck trips that would otherwise transport waste to distant landfills.
While we agree with the author’s assertion that more widespread adoption of recycling and reduction are priorities to strive for, waste is a large-scale problem that is worsening rather than ebbing. Truly sustainable waste management includes composting, recycling, recovering, and reducing — and New York leads many regions across the country with its high achievement rates in these areas. When these methods are done perfectly, there will still be a need for waste disposal. The Peekskill WTE facility is part of the solution to the MSW conundrum, and it’s a solution that also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and provides renewable energy.
Marilyn T. Lynch
5600 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20015