Why is Incineration Toxic?

  • Trash incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to manage waste.
  • Incineration is the worst way to manage waste and is far more polluting than landfills. For every 100 tons of trash burned, 70 tons become air pollution, and 30 tons become toxic ash that goes to landfills, which pose health hazards to groundwater and runoff. The best approach to managing was is a Zero Waste plan.
  • Incineration produces the fewest jobs compared to reuse, recycling and composting the same materials.
  • Incineration is also the dirtiest way to produce energy – far more polluting than coal burning.
    • According to the waste industry itself, incineration has always been more expensive than landfilling.
    • Often rebranded as ‘waste-to-energy’, ‘energy from waste”, or “resource recovery”, these terms are a public relations spin to gussy up a very dirty and inefficient industry. 
    • Even with air pollution control equipment, trash incinerators emit more pollution than (less controlled) coal power plants per unit of energy produced.
  • 79% are located in environmental justice communities.  Nearly half of operating incinerators are in places where more than 25% of residents are impoverished, and more than 25% are people of color.
  • Incinerators lock municipalities into waste generation and hamper movement to Zero Waste societies. Often times, municipalities are often contractually obligated to deliver a certain amount of waste to their incineration facility, or face a fee. Whereas landfills are not the case and provide incentive for communities to adopt Zero Waste and recycling practices.

Who is Covanta in Chester?

Covanta, also known as Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility, is the largest trash incinerator in the United States, handling over 1.2 million tons of garbage per year and processing over 3,500 tons of waste per day. Built in Chester, PA in 1992, this trash incinerator is the biggest polluter in Chester and one of the main polluters in Delaware County. It also has the least pollution controls when compared to other Covanta and trash incinerator plants.

Chester, Pennsylvania is a small city south of Philadelphia and located in Delaware County. The city spans 6.1 square miles with 34,000 residents, and is also home to the largest trash incinerator in the country (Covanta), a sewage waste treatment facility and sludge incinerator (DELCORA), chemical manufacturing plants, and other polluting industries.   

Over a century of systemic racism and political corruption has transformed the historic waterfront city on the Delaware River into a toxic regional waste hub and is recorded as one of the WORST CASES OF ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM IN THE COUNTRY.

Polluting industries have led to devastating consequences on community health and quality of life for the majority low-income black and brown community that lives in Chester.  These companies target low-income areas and communities of color because they are seen as the path of least resistance.

Facilities like the Covanta plant burn the trash inside combustion chambers. Burning all that trash releases large amounts of dozens of different pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (NO x ), sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ), lead and particulate matter, which are tiny bits of solids and liquids a fraction of the width of a human hair. Air pollution from these sources are linked with respiratory illnesses like asthma, and puts individuals at higher risk for diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and others. It also makes viruses like Covid-19 more dangerous. Children in Chester have asthma rates 5x the national average*. (2010 census data from The Asthma Program, PA Dept. of Health- Data provided by Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council).

30% of the burned material becomes toxic ash which is then hauled to Rolling Hills landfill in Berks County, increasing hazards of leachate and making landfills more dangerous.

Chester residents are paying for the region’s trash problems with their lives. Less than 2% of the trash burned at Covanta is from Chester, the rest is from Delaware County, Philadelphia, NYC, NJ and other states. Chester has become the dumping ground for the region and CRCQL is working to change that!


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