Fair is foul and foul is fair: Cement kilns incinerate while people’s health deteriorates

“We have one set of standards for hazardous waste incinerators. We have another, weaker set of standards for cement kilns.”
Carol Browner, EPA Administrator July 28, 1995

The disposal of obsolete pesticides under the Africa Stockpiles Project (ASP) still remains a contentious issue, due to the fact that government has already decided without civil society participation that non-burn technologies (cement kilns) would be included as an option for the final disposal of obsolete stockpiles. Recently, local company Natal Portlands Cement (NPC), proposed to fire their cement kiln at their Port Shepstone plant with hazardous waste. I was flabbergasted to read in the Minutes of the pre-application meeting held between NPC and the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DAEA) and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), that DAEA had suggested that consideration is given by NPC for the disposal of agricultural chemicals (obsolete pesticide waste).

I still find it shocking how civil society is seriously being undermined, considering the fact that a multi-stakeholder approach to the ASP is required. From the beginning of the ASP, public interest groups have voiced their concerns over the project pushing for the burning of hazardous waste in incinerators, since incinerators contribute substantially to global pollution by producing deadly poisons such as dioxins and furans.

Other proposals on the table for burning hazardous waste in cement kilns to name a few include that of Pretoria Portlands Cement (PPC) and their proposal to incinerate tyres to replace some of their coal in their cement kilns, and Holcim (Pty) Ltd, formerly known as Alpha (Pty) Ltd and their proposal to burn ‘alternative fuels’ in their cement kiln. So why is there this sudden onset and so many proposals for burning hazardous waste in cement kilns? Is it because we have a problem with toxic waste? The answer I would say is, yes to a certain degree, but what we also have is a situation where industry put profit above people and environmental integrity, a government who won’t do anything about it (weak policies) and waste management companies who are not competent to deal with toxic waste. In essence, it is not only about a technological fix to our toxic waste predicament but also a question of technique, i.e. prevention, reduce, reuse and recycling schemes. This is the alternative solution to turning around the toxic waste crisis on a long-term basis.

It is imperative that lessons be learnt from other countries such as the UK, who have found many ways of reducing their waste instead of incineration by implementing reduce, reuse and recycling techniques, i.e. tyres, instead of incinerating them and producing unnecessary pollutants, tyres are being recycled. Uses, which have been undertaken include the reuse of rubber crumb in products such as rubber wheels, specialist surfaces such as running tracks, cut up into smaller pieces they can be used in surface material for roads, playgrounds, etc, grounded down even more finely, it can be used in the manufacture of a wide range of rubber products, such as backing of carpets and car mats. Also, shredded tyres can be used as a bulking agent in composting.

Cement Kilns
Myth:
Cement kilns (CK) are of no risk to people living near it:
FACT:
A 1989 British study found a “marked concentration ” of larynx cancer cases among adults within 2 kms of a hazardous waste cement kiln incinerator. Cement kilns burning hazardous wastes are currently attempting to avoid performing detailed health risk assessments to determine the risks posed to human health and the environment from smokestack emissions and cement kiln dust disposal practices. (National Citizens Cement Kiln Coalition, August 1995)

Myth:
CK produce almost no harmful air emissions.
Fact:
According to the EPA, cement kilns are the third largest source of dioxin emissions and the second largest source of mercury emissions in the United States. Dioxin has been found to cause cancer and adversely affect the human reproductive and immune systems. Mercury causes damage to the nervous system and birth defects.
(US Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, September 11, 1995)

Myth:
CK temperatures cannot change quickly, ensuring that waste destruction is always complete.
Fact:
According to the EPA, the number of Products of Incomplete Combustion (PIC) released in the stack gases is estimated to range in the thousands. A 99.99% Destruction Reduced Efficiency (DRE) is not possible for toxic chemicals. Combustion systems virtually always produce PICs. (EPA, Background Document for the Development of PIC, October, 1989)

Myth:
Cement Kiln dust (CKD) emitted is minimal and of no risk to the community and environment
Fact:
Cement kilns that burn hazardous waste produce up to 104% more CKD than cement kilns that do not burn hazardous waste. (EPA, December 1993). A US Portland Cement Association study found that CKD from CK’s that burnt hazardous compared to non-waste burners were 250% above lead concentrations, 150% above cadmium concentrations, 50% above chromium concentrations and 100% above selenium concentrations. (J. Delles et al, Trace metals in Cement and kiln dusts, Illinois 1992).

Myth:
CK produce few heavy metals
Fact:
Heavy metals don’t incinerate. Any metals in the waste feed will be found in the stack, CKD and fly ash and pose a significant health risk. (EPA, Standards for owners and operators of hazardous waste incinerators, April 1990)

It is a fact that the future sprouting of proposals for burning waste in cement kiln incinerators will be a battle between civil society on the one hand and industry and government on the other. It is important that government starts acting by looking at front- end solutions to our toxic waste crisis, i.e. selecting a CPT encompassed by a strategic framework dealing with implementing waste management schemes that lessen the adverse health impacts from waste management. CPT, as oppose to cement kilns, are more efficient in terms of materials energy and usage and produce far fewer pollutants, this would ultimately fulfil the needs of society and the environment in a more sustainable manner.

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