Environmentalist groups in Chester, Pa. say they're not too thrilled about a recent sanitation deal that will bring hundreds of thousands of tons of New York City trash to a local waste facility.
Waste-to-energy company Covanta struck a 20-year deal with New York City's Department of Sanitation last summer. Under the agreement, Covanta will use trains to transport as much as 800,000 tons of waste annually from New York City. Roughly half of the waste will be burned and converted to energy at Covanta's Delaware Valley incenerator plant on the Chester waterfront, just 20 miles south of Philadelphia.
Youth Organizer for the Chester Environmental Justice group Kaya Banton said the deal brings an added burden to the Chester community, which is already home to some of the largest trash incenerators and medical waste facilities in the nation.
"Locking in 20 to 30 years of New York City waste burning is adding insult to injury. Enough is enough," Banton said.
On Wednesday, Covanta came before the Chester City Planning Commission seeking approval for its proposal to build a 15,000 square foot addition onto the Highland Ave. facility. The proposed 'rail box building' would house the containers used to transport waste between the two cities.
The building addition is the first step in Covanta's effort to change the way it transports waste: delivery by rail instead of by truck.
Representatives for Covanta say local environmentalist group complaints that the company's deal with New York City will increase the amount of trash intake at the Chester facility, and possibly pose health risks to residents are simply untrue.
"We're just changing the way our waste is delivered," Covanta spokesman James Regan said.
"There's no increase in the amount of waste we're going to receive, and from the standpoint of the community there will be no noticeable difference," Covanta Vice President of Environmental Science and Community Affairs John Waffenschmidt said.
"The facility operates well below environmental permits and is fully protective of human health and the environment."
Mike Ewall, founder of the Philadelphia-based Energy Justice Network, however, says Covanta's proposal is likely to have negative impacts on minority communities in Chester, and still has too many unknowns for him to support it.
"Environmental racism is an ongoing issue here in terms of community health and there's a lot of information that's still in the dark on this deal," Ewall said.
"We’d rather see this facility closed than to see more tons of trash brought into the community, right across the tracks from people's homes. It’s a serious health problem."
The Planning Commission tabled Covanta's proposal for 30 days after hearing concerns from the public at the Wednesday night meeting. The company will also need additonal approvals from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection before the project can move forward.
Covanta's Delaware Valley plant processes more than 3,500 tons of municipal and commercial solid waste each day.