Fahrenheit fight

No one jumped out of their seat to yell and point fingers, but tough questions were asked — and a couple derogatory remarks were muttered — about the $100-million solid-waste incinerator planned for Delray, a small neighborhood on Detroit’s southwest side. About 40 folks gathered last week to learn about the city’s plan to replace the Water and Sewerage Department’s waste incinerator with a new one — that will burn about 500 tons of toxic-laden sewage sludge a day from the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The meeting boiled down to a debate over whether the new incinerator — which Detroit Minergy, LLC has a contract with the city to build and operate — will release more or less dioxin — one the most toxic materials known — than the current system.

According to chemical engineer and University of Toledo professor emeritus Dr. Gary Bennett, Minergy’s incinerator will emit less dioxin than the current incinerator. In fact, Bennett, who spoke at the informational meeting hosted by Michigan State University professors from the Technical Outreach Services for Communities (TOSC) and the Delray United Council, said he “would not object to one in my back yard,” when asked if he would recommend such an incinerator for Toledo.

But not everyone was comforted, including Saulius Simoliunas. A chemist at the wastewater treatment plant for 20 years, Simoliunas claims the Minergy facility will release at least 100 times more dioxins than the current system because higher temperatures produce more of the toxic substance. Minergy plans to burn the sludge at temperatures between 2,300 and 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, according to TOSC. The Wastewater Treatment Plant burns it between roughly 1,400 and 1,600 degrees, says Simoliunas.

“This area has so many dioxins. Why do they need more?” said Simolinuas, referring to the highly polluted — mostly poor, mostly Hispanic — Delray neighborhood.

According to TOSC project engineer Diane Lickfelt, Minergy’s higher temperatures are needed to turn sludge into a glasslike product used in roofing and paving materials. Lickfelt says it is unclear whether Minergy will emit more or less dioxin than the city’s current incinerator since the company will employ new technology.

But, she adds, Minergy will face stricter emissions standards than the old incinerator, which is subject to old air quality regulations. This does not satisfy Simoliunas.

In the end, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality — which is pro-business — must decide whether to issue a permit to Minergy to operate the incinerator, which may happen this month. Maybe the DEQ will settle the dioxin debate and do what’s in the public’s best interest. But News Hits isn’t banking on it.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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