Will ministry really control incinerators?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Incineration of municipal solid waste to generate electricity is a well-known technology widely used in the United States, Europe, and other developed countries. There are well-developed regulations based on research and continued monitoring for control of emissions from such plants and disposal of their ash, which is considered a toxic waste.

The vice-minister for energy of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía has announced that regulations have been developed for incinerator construction and operation here, based on regulations from Spain and elsewhere in Europe. I don’t know if the ministry consulted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. What has some local people worried is how strictly incinerators here would be operated consistent with the regulations, and how strictly the ministry would monitor their operation and emissions.

Incineration of municipal solid waste to generate electricity and reduce the solid waste load on Costa Rica’s existing landfills would help offset emissions of greenhouse gases here caused by thermal electricity generation by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad using diesel and bunker. Municipal waste disposal in landfills results in massive production of methane from decomposing organic waste.

Atmospheric methane causes a much higher greenhouse effect, contributing to global climate disruption, than carbon dioxide released from both solid waste incinerators and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad’s thermal generating plants. Landfills here are supposedly required to install, operate, and maintain methane burners to avoid release into the atmosphere, but I’m skeptical that a significant proportion of existing landfills comply, and that the ministry even monitors them regularly.

The big question is whether municipal incinerators here would be operated consistent with regulations and monitored by the ministry to control smokestack emissions of toxic compounds that could effect downwind inhabitants, watersheds, and wildlife habitat.

Loren B. Ford
La Argentina de Grecia

Ford, who holds a doctorate, is president of Eco-Energía–Advanced Sustainable Biomass Energy.

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