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Claremont group disputes incinerator plant's permit

Union Leader Correspondent

May 19. 2013 10:15PM

CLAREMONT — Rebecca MacKenzie said she chose to plant marigolds over vegetables because she is afraid to harvest food from a patch of earth so close to the waste-burning incinerators of Wheelabrator Claremont Company, about a mile away.

MacKenzie and 30 other area residents are appealing Wheelabrator's permit to operate to the state Air Resources Council. The hearing is set for today at 10 a.m. at the Department of Environmental Services, 29 Hazen Drive, Concord.

A Wheelabrator spokesman said Sunday the company is well within federal and state emission standards.

"The waste-to-energy plant is subject to an extensive set of stringent federal and state permit requirements and emission limits," Michelle Firmbach Nadeau, Wheelabrator senior manager of public affairs, wrote in an email. "The plant, which converts post-recycled everyday household waste into clean renewable energy, operates well within its permit requirements and emission limits. These comprehensive and very conservative emission limits are designed to be fully protective of human health and the environment, with a very significant margin of safety. New Hampshire has set a dioxin limit that is less than 1/4 of the EPA standard. The plant operates far below this standard, and, in fact, within a small fraction (or 1/6th) of this very protective New Hampshire standard."

MacKenzie of Claremont and Katherine Lajoie of Charlestown are heading the appeal. Appellants include Claremont, Charlestown, Cornish, New London, Newport and Unity residents.

Lajoie, a public health nurse, said the appellants represent a cross-section of the community, from nurses and doctors to farmers, accountants and teachers.

"We live in close proximity to the incinerator and our health and welfare are put at risk by its continued operation. The Wheelabrator incinerator increases our risk of exposure to lead, mercury, dioxin and other highly toxic chemicals," the appeal says.

Lajoie said her group discovered in February the plant had a permit violation that was not mentioned last year during the public process that took place when Wheelabrator Claremont was seeking to renew its state permit.

From 1987 to 2010, Wheelabrator burned the filter bags used on its incinerator smokestack, Lajoie said. The filters are considered hazardous waste, she said.

The Wheelabrator Claremont Company on Grissom Lane opened in 1987. It processes up to 200 tons per day of municipal solid waste and has a generating capacity of 5,000 kilowatts, which equals the electrical needs of 5,600 New Hampshire homes, according to the company website.

Mackenzie, who lived in Claremont as a child, moved back in 2004 so she and her husband could care for her ailing father.

"I think back in the 80s this was seen as, 'This is how we can burn trash to make energy,'" she said. "We can't afford that anymore. We're burning up recyclable materials that we can't afford to burn and the burning of them is creating these toxins."

One in particular, TCDD dioxin, is extremely harmful, she said. "There are no safe levels of this certain dioxin."

In her email, Wheelabrator's Michelle Firmbach Nadeau noted: "The U.S. EPA's Clean Air Act sets nationwide standards for a range of air emissions designed to protect human health and environment. Claremont is in an area where the air quality is well within these nationwide standards. The plant is strictly regulated so that it will not have any significant or adverse effect on air quality in the area."

Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., based in Hampton, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management, according to its website.

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