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Limiting Burning of PVC Is Urged

Local incinerator is among targets

Dec 10, 2004 | Boston Globe

A national report issued this week identified Massachusetts as the third-largest incinerator of polyvinyl chloride waste in the United States. Of the state's seven incinerators, two of the top three are in Saugus and Haverhill, and burn more than 30 percent of the state's waste.

The report, issued by the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow a Boston-based nonprofit environmental organization was written by two nonprofit groups: the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, based in Virginia, and the Environmental Health Strategy Center, based in Maine.

According to the report, up to 7 billion pounds of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is discarded every year in the United States. PVC is used to create hard plastic that covers consumer products, also called blister packs, as well as plastic bottles, containers, wrap, pipes, and bags. When burned, PVC creates dioxins, which can cause cancer, build up in the food chain, and harm the immune and reproductive systems, said Cindy Luppi, the organizing director of Clean Water Action, which belongs to the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.

The report calls for two major users of PVC, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson, to phase out its use. Johnson & Johnson uses PVC to make bottles for health and beauty products, and Microsoft uses PVC for blister packs that contain software programs.

"The Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Co. continues to reduce its use of this packaging for its consumer products, is actively engaged with suppliers to identify alternatives to replace our existing PVC packaging, and is avoiding PVC use in future products," said Marc Monseau, a company spokesman.

Microsoft declined to comment on the report.

According to the report, Massachusetts is the third-highest incinerator of PVC in the country, behind Florida and New York, burning 28,145 tons of PVC discarded by the public annually. North of Boston, the Covanta Energy incinerator in Haverhill burns 1,650 tons of waste a day, and Wheelabrator in Saugus burns 1,500 tons a day. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that 0.62 percent of municipal solid waste contains PVC.

"Burn PVC waste in incinerators as Massachusetts does in high volume and it changes to cancer-causing dioxin," said Luppi. Luppi said her organization also is supporting state legislation that would promote the use of safer alternatives to the chemicals that form PVC. If passed, the state would provide technical and financial assistance to businesses to purchase products that do not contain lead, dioxin, or phthalates (a class of widely used industrial compounds), which are linked to PVC burning.

Maureen Dever, a Saugus selectwoman and former chairwoman of the Saugus Board of Health, said she would support the proposed state bill, and welcomed this week's PVC report that called for the two companies to stop using PVC in products.

"Anything that will reduce the citizens of Saugus exposure to carcinogens is absolutely something that should be explored," she said.

In Haverhill, Brent Baeslack of the Merrimack Valley Environmental Coalition also welcomed the report. "Our region deserves relief from this toxic cocktail of pollution caused by the incineration of PVC products," said Baeslack.

Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the state measures PVC levels by dioxin emissions. He said the state's seven waste incinerators meet the federal dioxin emission guideline of 30 to 60 nanograms per dry standard cubic meter. Coletta said dioxin and mercury emissions were significantly reduced in 2000, when the state mandated incinerator plants to install carbon injection systems on smokestacks.

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