Florida Trash Incinerator Proposal Bites the Dust

(Source: Laurie K. Blandford and Anthony Westbury, TC Palm)

A trash incinerator proposal for St. Lucie, Florida has fallen through following a unanimous decision by the St. Lucie County Commissioners to terminate the contract with Georgia-based Geoplasma, citing economic concerns. The 24 megawatt incinerator would’ve incinerated 600 tons of trash per day using a technology called plasma arc, which turns garbage into a gas and slag, a solid waste byproduct.

“Fortunately, the health of St. Lucie County residents will not be jeopardized since the incinerator won’t be built,” said Dr. Ron Saff, an asthma specialist based in Tallahassee, who had opposed the facility along with other area medical professionals. Saff offers his thanks to “the local medical community…who took a bold stand in St. Lucie County against the incinerator. This certainly helped win the battle.”

County Commissioners are now in negotations with New Jersey based incinerator developer, Covanta Energy Corporation, to build a thermal conversion facility at the county landfill to process municipal solid waste.


The canceled facility would’ve emitted toxic air pollutants, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, dioxins, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, and furans, as well as greenhouse gases. “In all incineration technologies, air pollution control devices are mainly devices that capture and concentrate the toxic pollutants; they don’t eliminate them,” according to Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in its 2009 report, "An Industry Blowing Smoke." “By capturing and concentrating the pollutants, pollutants are transferred to other environmental media such as fly ash, char, slag, and waste water.” 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has concerns with the “syngas” produced through the plasma arc trash incineration process. “While the high temperatures can destroy organics, some undesirable compounds, like dioxins and furans, can reform at temperature ranges between 450 and 850 degrees F if chlorine is present,” according to its "Whitepaper on the Use of Plasma Arc Technology to Treat Municipal Solid Waste." 

Trash incineration often burns waste materials that could otherwise be recycled or composted. Ninety percent of materials consumed in U.S. incinerators and landfills could be recycled or composted, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. In 2010, Ocean City Maryland terminated its recycling program in favor of sending its trash and recyclables to the Covanta trash incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania. Energy Justice Network has created a map depicting the locations of operating, proposed and defeated trash incinerators in the U.S.