Environment

Incinerators will foul the air, activists warn

Photo by Brian (BriYYZ/flickr.com)

Hunts Pointers want the mayor to act on a proposal he made six years ago to build waste transfer stations, like this one on Halleck St., in other city neighborhoods, to take some of the burden off the South Bronx.


South Bronx bears garbage burden for whole city

As the clock ticks on Mayor Bloomberg’s final term in City Hall, environmental activists want to be sure he doesn’t forget the promise he made six years ago to take some of the burden off poor neighborhoods by seeing to it that other neighborhoods and other boroughs bore their fair share.

But advocates are also nervous that the city may make a bad problem worse, by bringing a relatively new form of trash-burning technology to low-income areas. The result could be serious health consequences for residents, they say. 

Elected officials and environmental advocacy groups who helped design the city’s solid waste management plan in 2006 came together with a few local residents at The Point Community Development Corp. on Garrison Avenune on June 14 to discuss other ways to relieve Hunts Point of its large share of garbage-handling facilities.

They called for the city to fulfill its promise to have each borough dispose of its own garbage. And they expressed concern that instead the city would turn to incinerators, build them in the South Bronx, and pollute the air with dangerous gases.

Trash-hauling trucks already foul the air, noted one of those at the meeting.

“It’s scary all the trucks that fly past you. Once you come, you see them all the time,” said Alexis Davila, 17, who works at The Point’s outdoor campus near Hunts Point Riverside Park, adding, “No one wants to go to a park where there is garbage.”

The elected officials who represent the South Bronx agree that the area puts up with an unfair share of the city’s trash.

“There needs to be equality; we all need to share the burden,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents part of Mott Haven along with East Harlem.

“It’s not by chance these things are in areas of color,” she added.

A quarter of the 50,000 tons of waste generated in the five boroughs each day is processed in the South Bronx, according to the city’s Department of Sanitation. Hunts Point and Port Morris are home to 10 of the city’s 58 garbage licensed processing facilities.

Because they must be located in manufacturing zones, garbage facilities that don’t require a license are also concentrated in the South Bronx and on the Brooklyn waterfront.

Trucks sit idling in long lines at local transfer stations around the clock, fouling the air while waiting to shift their trash onto other trucks that then haul the garbage to landfills and incinerators outside the city.

Those trucks are major contributors to the area’s high asthma rates, the panelists said.

The 2006 plan promised to reopen two waste transfer stations in Manhattan, one on the Upper East Side and the other in Greenwich Village. Neither has opened.

In all, the plan called for opening nine transfer stations throughout the city, four marine and five rail, and expanding recycling operations. But only two of the planned marine transfer stations are being built, along with one recycling facility scheduled to open in Brooklyn next year. City officials say budget cuts are to blame.

But the activists were most worried about the city’s plans to open incinerators. They contend that one new so-called “waste-to-energy” technology produces dangerous gases when burned, while a second, more expensive method, requires mixing microorganisms with trash to break it down.

In addition, a long-standing criticism of incineration is that it leaves a residue of toxic ash, which must be buried in special landfills, and that it competes for raw materials with recyclers, making recycling less economically viable.

Protesters demonstrated outside the city’s Economic Development Corporation headquarters in April when that agency announced it was taking bids for a new incinerator in Staten Island. Some worry the South Bronx will be next.

“We need elected officials to not be bought by any business pitches, but to rely on science,” said Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, executive director of The Point.

“There are only so many places in the city where you can site this type of thing because of zoning. These places are the low-income communities that were overburdened then and are overburdened now,” wrote Gavin Kearney, director of Environmental Justice at New York Lawyers for Public Interest, in an email to the Express.

The city is accepting requests through August for businesses wanting to build waste-to-energy plants. Kearney says the better solution is to break the logjam that keeps new waste transfer stations to be built elsewhere in the city.

Additional reporting by Fausto Giovanny Pinto. 

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