The dairy, wine and tourism industries of the Finger Lakes have good reason to fear toxic air pollutants if the state’s largest waste incinerator is built as planned in Romulus, a prominent industry critic warned this week.
Mercury, lead and dioxins would spew from its 260-foot smokestack and settle on farms, vineyards and Seneca and Cayuga lakes, polluting local milk, wine and fish, said Paul Connett, a Cambridge-educated chemist who has successfully opposed dozens of proposed waste incinerators worldwide since the 1980s.
Milk from grazing cows would be particularly vulnerable to dioxins — potent, long-lasting carcinogens — while the lakes would act as giant catch basins for mercury that tends to accumulate in fish, he said.
“Dioxin monitoring in the U.S. is pathetic … They monitor one to three times a year, with advance notice,” Connett said in an interview Jan. 5. “It’s such a con trick played on the American public.”
To be effective, he said, regulation must include strict thresholds for toxic emissions, conscientious monitoring and consistent enforcement. While the U.S. falls far short, Europeans tend to be better. For example, in Germany and Belgium, where incinerators are widely used as an alternative to landfilling waste, continuous air sampling is required, he added.
Connett is scheduled to speak against the proposed Romulus plant at 3 pm Sunday, Jan. 7, at the Romulus Central School Auditorium. He said the project has both local and national implications.
“They’ve only built one new waste incinerator in the U.S. since 1997,” he said. “This project would breath new life into a dead industry.”
Developers have proposed a $365 million waste incinerator at the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus. The plan was unveiled in November by Circular enerG LLC, a Rochester company with no track record in waste disposal or energy generation.
The plant would burn up to 2,600 tons of trash a day — more than any of the state’s 10 existing trash incinerators — and produce up to 50 megawatts of electricity. Most of the trash would be delivered from outside the region by truck or train.
“This is a commercial venture which is going to bring into your community thousands of tons of waste from distant communities that are happy to pay,” Connett said. “Their willingness to pay a lot of money to get rid of that waste is the inverse image of what it’s doing to the value of your community.”
Alan Knauf, attorney for Circular enerG, has touted the project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to piling trash in landfills. He said true environmentalists should support it. The company has promised to strictly abide by all state and federal regulations.
But those assurances haven’t satisfied opponents from around the Finger Lakes. Geneva’s town board has passed a resolution against the project, and Connett’s talk is sponsored by local chapters of the Sierra Club, Seneca Lake Guardian and the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, among others.
Turnout at Connett’s talk Sunday afternoon and at a public hearing before the Romulus Planning Board the following evening (at the same school auditorium at 7 pm, Jan. 8) may reflect the intensity of that opposition.
Judith Enck, a former regional director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with supervisory authority over New York and New Jersey, will introduce Connett Sunday.
Aside from his B.A. in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, Connett holds a PhD in Chemistry from Dartmouth. He lives in Binghamton, where he is chairman of the Fluoride Action Network, a group opposed to fluoridation of municipal water supplies.
In August 2016, Connett spoke against plans for a medical waste incinerator at a packed high school auditorium in New Milford, Pa., 25 miles south of Binghamton.
The project was called off last February.