Eastern Lake Ontario Environmental Research Group 2000 (cont'd from eloerg.tripod.com/waupoos)

Another fine mess in Port Hope: municipal waste incinerator proposal, January 2014

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Port Hope residents worry about garbage incinerator

Concerns about low-level radioactive waste divided Port Hope for years. Now, a proposed incinerator is whipping up strong emotions.
Port Hope residents worry about garbage incinerator

Aaron Harris photo for the Toronto Star

Terry Hickey, left, and Louise Ferrie-Blecher, right, at the site of a proposed incinerator in Port Hope, Ont. Both are against the proposed $150-million project.

In Port Hope, a town nestled amid the Northumberland Hills just east of Toronto and peppered with historic homes, antique stores and quirky restaurants, a bitter battle is brewing over garbage.

“Why Port Hope, of all the places?” asks resident Louise Ferrie-Blecher. “We are just beginning to clean up our radioactive waste… why should we be known as the garbage town now?”

Ferrie-Blecher is a spokesperson for Port Hope Residents 4 Managing Waste Responsibly, one of the groups that opposes a proposed $150-million incinerator project in a town already undergoing the biggest cleanup of low-level radioactive waste in Canadian history — a legacy of decades of uranium refining.

The roots of the garbage controversy were planted in 2009 when a company called ENTECH-REM began working on a plan to build a “material recycling and gasification facility” — a.k.a. an incinerator — on a 23-acre Port Hope site.

Ferrie-Blecher and Terry Hickey, chair of the Port Hope Ratepayers’ Association, say their opposition to the proposed plant is not NIMBYism.

“We started asking questions,” says Hickey, adding they also sought expert advice. “ENTECH-REM has never had any convincing answers.”

The incinerator plan has drawn the ire of hundreds of people in the town of 16,000, galvanizing them to stick signs in their lawns, email their councillors and even seek expert advice. It has also led to fiery editorials in local newspapers and outraged letters from residents. And some retired residents have donated their pensions to fight the project.

“There are significant health concerns,” says Hickey. “We believe that not enough work has been done to determine how bad it could be bad for Port Hope.”

More about Port Hope at thestar.com:

Port Hope residents, he says, have been provided with sketchy information. “There is more marketing material than information,” he says. “For instance, what about nanoparticles? Or how they could impact health?”

Hickey also says ENTECH-REM has never built or operated an incinerator or waste disposal plant in North America, a claim confirmed by the company.

In an email, Lewis Staats, president of Renewable Energy Management, which holds the local rights to technology developed by Australian company ENTECH RES, dismissed the health concerns.

Nanoparticles — the scientific name for ultrafine particles — are everywhere, he said.

“They are present in emissions from aircraft, vehicles, lawn mowers, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, barbecue grills, printers in the workplace, power plants and many light and heavy commercial and industrial operations,” said Staats.

Staats said the facility will use efficient low-temperature thermal conversion technology to convert solid waste to energy-rich synthetic natural gas, a process known as gasification. “The gas will be utilized to produce electrical energy, the same way natural gas is utilized to produce electrical energy.”

But Stan Blecher, a medical geneticist and professor emeritus at the University of Guelph (and Ferrie-Blecher’s father-in-law), says all incinerators are bad, but the gasification kind “is probably worse.”

That is because the gasification is done at a lower temperature than other kinds of incineration, and can produce even higher levels of cancer-producing poisons such as dioxins, he says.

“There are many references in the scientific literature to the fact that the lower temperature procedures can be even more dangerous than higher temperature incineration,” says Blecher.

To that, Staats responded out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many regulatory bodies around the world, including Ontario, “consider that at present there is not enough information to regulate on nanoparticles.”

He said the facility “will be required to comply with any new regulation for nanoparticles or other emissions if any regulatory changes are made.”

He also said that this low temperature thermal conversion by gasification technology developed by ENTECH has been successfully used for more than 20 years in more than 150 installations in Australia, Southeast Asia and Poland.

ENTECH-REM, whose head office is in Burlington, says construction will create more than 250 jobs, while the facility will offer about 35 jobs when operational.

Its application is currently under review by Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment.

The Town of Port Hope did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ferrie-Blecher points out that REM noted in its own news releases on the proposed facility that it has “a steep hill to climb,” because, while this technology is being used in places such as Poland, Malaysia and Singapore, “these countries may not have as tough environmental standards as exist here in Ontario.

“Our town is starting to clean up,” says Ferrie-Blecher. “Eldorado messed it up for years ... and now we want to do it to Port Hope again? With a new kind of technology? That is just moronic.”

Eldorado is a reference to the decades’-old stigma still being fought by Port Hope.

The picture-perfect lakeside town is riddled with low-level radioactive waste deposited during 50 years of radium and uranium refining at the Cameco refinery, formerly the Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Ltd., from the 1930s to the 1980s. It is spread all over town — around homes, in parks, office buildings.

A cleanup will entail digging out more than 1.2 million cubic metres of soil, will last over a decade and cost at least $260 million. The waste will be trucked to a storage mound south of Highway 401, where it will be sealed up for centuries.

Greg Burns, a councillor who is publicly and vociferously against the incinerator proposal, says he cannot understand how, “if we are cleaning up our town, we would want to bring in garbage.”

ENTECH-REM, he says, has acknowledged that it will process garbage waste from various Ontario municipalities. “Which means that as trucks carry low-level radioactive waste from Port Hope, garbage trucks will roll into the town.”

Port Hope will not be a tourist destination any more if that happens.

“No one will ever want to come to Port Hope,” he says. “And why should they? I won’t blame them.”

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Eastern Lake Ontario Environmental Research Group