Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Incinerator Air Emissions: Inhalation Exposure Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Incinerator Air Emissions: Inhalation Exposure Perspectives

Article excerpt

Inhalation Exposure Perspectives


An entertainment telecast of the behind-the-scenes efforts for a new movie showed a series of quickly sequenced explosions on a ship in Boston Harbor. The explosions were spectacular. Huge fire balls were accompanied by billowing clouds of black smoke. When asked how they felt about the explosions, most local residents responded that they were pleased that such an event took place in their neighborhood. A few people were mildly disturbed that pictures and small items were shaken from walls and shelves; however, when the film's director offered to pay for damages, they were easily mollified.

Curiously, none of the people surveyed appeared concerned about the pollutants emitted into the local environment, although they may have had plenty to be concerned about. Depending upon the materials involved in the ship's construction and the materials burned during the fire, emissions may have contained heavy metals (paints and pigments), chlorinated dioxins and furans (halogenated plastics), and carcinogenic polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (e.g., benzo[a]pyrene).

If, instead of a thrilling Hollywood scene coming to the neighborhood, a temporary incinerator was going to be installed to clean up a local hazardous waste site, area residents would likely not embrace the incinerator with the same zeal as displayed for the exploding ship! The public usually has no practical method to evaluate the two types of events equitably. There is no universal regulatory requirement to analyze the exploding ship pollutants in the same manner that is mandated for incinerators. Both the public and regulatory officials need to step back periodically and attempt to analyze all kinds of events from a broader perspective and in a consistent manner.

Evaluation Approach

Members of the general public often have little training or experience in analyzing the impacts of technologic events on the environment or their health. For instance, most people acknowledge that something needs to be done about hazardous waste. However, newspapers are full of articles about communities fighting to keep new hazardous waste disposal facilities, particularly incinerators, out of their neighborhoods.

Where incinerators are proposed, the public can benefit by having an independent third party help sort out conflicting claims regarding such facilities. This third party should have nothing to gain or lose by the incinerator's implementation. However, the third party should be capable of understanding not only incineration and related pollution control technology, but also health risks associated with that technology. Such third-party evaluation can be obtained from a number of sources, including state and local health departments, colleges and universities, and consulting firms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a third-party perspective for the U.S. Army's Chemical Demilitarization Program, which currently proposes to use incineration to destroy lethal chemical warfare stockpiles. These stockpiles contain obsolete nerve gases and mustard agents in various munitions and containers. CDC is required by law (Public Laws 91-121, 91-441, and 99-145) to review the potential effects that the Army's disposal plans and activities could have on public health, regardless of the technology used, and to make recommendations to ensure that public health is protected. CDC takes no part in the selection of disposal methods except to point out potential adverse health effects of the options presented.

In its review capacity, CDC has access to stack emission data from trial burns of various combinations of agents and munitions. To date, CDC has examined the data from five separate trial burns, for each of which at least three individual stack sampling runs took place (1-3). Each stack sampling run provided data on volatile and semivolatile organic compounds and on inorganic compounds such as metals and hydrogen chloride. …

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