Residents Petition for Wheelabrator to Stop Expansion of Saugus Ash Landfill

By Beth Treffeisen

The Wheelabrator Saugus landfill that was scheduled to close in 1996, but continues to run today, has recently asked to expand for another five years, causing many nearby residents to become outraged.

“It was never meant to be permanent,” said State Representative RoseLee Vincent. “People need to realize we have an option and have a voice.”

During a media event this past Tuesday in downtown Boston, members of the Alliance for Health and Environment hosted speakers including State Representative Vincent, advocates from the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), Toxics Action Center (TAC), Clean Water Action and local officials and residents of Saugus and Revere.

The petition calls for the state and local officials to deny the request of expansion along with making the Energy and Environmental Affairs require Wheelabrator to undergo a full Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) review and apply for a site assignment from the Board of Health.

This comes after Wheelabrator, the oldest incinerator in the state, filed an Environmental Notification Form with the MEPA office at the beginning of June. The notification outlined a proposed expansion to fill in two valleys between existing landfills with ash adding five years life.

“This environmental injustice has been going on for over 40 years,” said Vincent. “It is time to stop further injustice.”

There have been 120 letters sent out to stop further expansion of the landfill along with the submission of 800 plus signatures from people who live in the region and across the state.

The site sits next to marshlands and is only a half-mile from two communities. It is known to spew ash into the environment allegedly affecting residents’ health.

Cindy Luppi the director of the Clean Water Action New England said,  “we need to stand up today to find alternatives to expanding the ash fill.”

The ash is the product of trash that gets burned inside the incinerator. What is leftover allegedly contains heavy metals including the better-known lead, mercury, cadmium but also dioxin, which is one of the most toxic things known to man.

“It’s terrible – it would never be approved today,” said Claire Miller the lead community organizer at TAC.

She added that back in the 70’s and 80’s the solution to pollution was dilution, where it was deliberately built near wetlands and marshlands to leak out and clean itself. “Now we know that philosophy is ridiculous.”

Miller stated that the EPA says landfills always leak. To fix the problem TAC believes in the long term solution of the waste being entirely reduced, reused and recycled but for now they suggest the ash go into an approved lined landfill.

Currently the ash landfills are not lined, allowing the heavy metals to seep into the nearby environment that has been labeled to be in critical condition.

Salt marshes play an important role in estuarine health by aiding in nutrient attenuation and cycling, according to Massachusetts Bays Program. It also helps with water quality improvement, shoreline stabilization and mitigation for climate change and sea level rise.

In urban areas storm water runoff can have high concentrations of pollutants and nutrients and the salt marshes found in the Boston Harbor region absorb nutrients as they enter the estuary.

Massachusetts Bays Program estimates that 81 percent of salt marsh has been lost since pre-colonial times due in large part to placement of fills to form upland, leaving what little is left critical to keeping waterways clean.

By calling for a full environmental impact report from Wheelabrator, Vincent said, “We want them to prove to us what they say is true.”

This is a regional issue Vincent said. “Prior to this our voice has not been heard. The people of Revere as well as Saugus should have a voice.”

 

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