Stop the toxic incineration of Delaware County's trash in Chester!

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February/March 2021


Re: Delaware County waste contracts


Attention Delaware County Council and all Delaware County municipalities:


As residents and organizations of Delaware County, we call on Delaware County Council and all county municipalities to urge Delaware County Solid Waste Authority (DCSWA) to not renew a new contract with Covanta trash incinerator (also referred to as Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility), the largest trash incinerator in the U.S., located in Chester, PA.  The current 5-year contract is set to expire on April 30, 2022 and is up for potential extension for additional years as early as May 2021.


To stop the extension of this incineration contract, we call on local municipalities to adopt a Zero Waste resolution which states that the incineration of Delaware County trash at Covanta is unacceptable and contributes to air pollution and health-related problems throughout Chester City and Delaware County. The resolution also states a commitment towards adopting waste reduction strategies. We call on the County Council to support these resolutions by ensuring that there is no continued contract to incinerate the county’s waste beyond April 30, 2022.


Approximately 78% of the trash in Delaware County is sent to Covanta incinerator where it is burned and turned into toxic pollution that impacts the entire region, and particularly burdens the residents of Chester City -- a low-income, historically marginalized, Black community. Chester is known as one of the nation’s worst cases of environmental racism, in large part because of the presence of this incinerator, which opened in 1992. 


The Covanta incinerator is a serious threat to community health, civil rights, pollution and climate change. Covanta trash incineration is the biggest air polluter in Chester City, and a top air polluter in all of Delaware County and the greater Philadelphia region. It is one of the largest emitters of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution which causes asthma attacks. A 2010 study found that asthma hospitalization rates in Chester are 3x the rate for Pennsylvania, and double the rate for the rest of Delaware County.


Trash incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste or to make energy.  It’s dirtier than coal power plants and is more polluting than direct landfilling of trash., For every 100 tons burned, over 70 tons becomes air pollution and the other nearly 30 tons end up as toxic ash that is dumped in the county’s landfill, making it more dangerous than if waste were placed there directly. 


The county's landfill would be less toxic if landfilling trash instead of incinerator ash.  It would also last longer if the county stopped importing trash from other states, and handled only its own waste, ideally burying only what is left after implementing sustainable Zero Waste systems.  From 2017 through 2020, Delaware County sent 1,431,868 million tons of waste to be burned at Covanta’s incinerator in Chester, and the county’s landfill accepted 1,567,046 tons of Covanta’s toxic ash, most of which is burned trash from Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey.,


Incinerators are leading sources of toxic mercury pollution, hydrochloric acid, particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and more. 


Studies of communities living near trash incinerators have shown many elevated cancers, as well as increased respiratory and heart disease. In 2019, Delaware County received an “F” grade from American Lung Association for smog.


Another reason the county must not get locked into another contract with Covanta, is the “put-or-pay” clause which penalizes the county if it does not deliver a certain tonnage of waste and is a huge deterrent to waste reduction strategies.  


Chester City receives approximately $4.6 million a year from “Covanta host community fees” based on a share of every ton of trash burned at Covanta’s incinerator.  Delaware County’s share of that is $1,334,000/year.  To avoid putting Chester City in a worse place economically, Delaware County ought to replace this lost revenue, especially considering that the county solicited the incinerator in the first place, and contracted to direct the county’s waste there for over three decades.  Making Chester City whole would only cost each county resident, on average, $2.35/year if no tax revenue from businesses in the county were put toward this.  It amounts to paying just $3.76 more per ton of trash, which is tiny compared to the cost of disposal, and is an amount that can easily be made up with waste reduction efforts.


There is no shortage of alternatives.  Pennsylvania has 43 landfills and has long been the largest importer of trash in the U.S. due to a glut of waste disposal capacity.  Since incineration (and landfilling ash) is far more damaging than using landfills directly, the county ought to switch directly to using its landfill while pursuing waste reduction strategies to extend the landfill’s life.


Delaware County government must recognize the long-term health implications of continuing to send trash to the Covanta incinerator. We hope municipalities and Council take this seriously and shift away from incineration for the health and benefit of us all. 


Sincerely,

Zulene Mayfield 

Founder & Director of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living 


Other undersigned individuals and organizations

Stop the incineration of Delco's trash in Chester!

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