The Toxics Action Center released its annual “Dirty Dozen Awards” Tuesday, naming three Connecticut companies among the 12 worst polluters in New England.
The action center has issued the awards for the past 25 years, targeting companies that the regional nonprofit considers to be a threat to public and environmental health. This year, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, Connecticut Environmental Council, and the Raymark Superfund Site in Stratford made the list.
At a Hartford press conference, Toxics Action Center Community Organizer Jonathan Leibovic said all the companies named have failed to adapt to the environmental standards of the times.
“They are dinosaurs. Their business practices are relics of a bygone era. They are going extinct and they want to bring the rest of New England down with them,” he said.
Leibovic said the Raymark Superfund Site was run by an auto parts company formerly known as Raybestos. It primarily manufactured brake pads containing asbestos.
“Eventually it went bankrupt because their workers started suing them. Their workers, of course, were exposed to toxic chemicals and it turned out their long-time president was well aware of the toxic effects of asbestos without notifying their employees,” he said.
Leibovic said the company reorganized its finances to avoid being held accountable and left harmful chemicals at its former site in Stratford.
In the past, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund paid for the cleanup of “orphan sites,” or polluted properties where no corporation or individual could be held responsible. Leibovic said the fund had been flush with money from a “polluter pays” tax, but Congress allowed the tax expire in 1995 and the fund is now bankrupt.
Leibovic advocated reinstating the polluter pays tax, but said he doesn’t see any political will in Congress to do so.
The other two Dirty Dozen “winners” in Connecticut are entities that are still operating in the state.
The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority is a solid waste disposal agency with a recycling and trash-to-energy facility in Hartford.
CRRA turns 2,850 tons of garbage into fuel each day at its trash-to-energy facility in Hartford.
“Incineration is not a good way to deal with trash because, for one thing, it redistributes a lot of the toxic materials in trash into the air. For another thing, incinerator ash is highly concentrated toxic material that still has to be landfilled somewhere,” Leibovic said.
CRRA’s Public Affairs Director Paul Nonnenmacher said the Toxics Action Center often targets the company with baseless allegations not supported by scientific research. He pointed to CRRA’s emissions performance, which in most cases shows the company producing emissions well beneath the EPA’s standards.
“They do this every year and every year they make the same baseless assertions,” Nonnenmacher said.
The company owns one incinerator that serves as a waste combustor, converting trash-to-energy to be sold on the power grid, he said. Nonnenmacher also disputed Leibovic’s claim that incinerator ash was bound to leak out of landfills and pollute the environment. The company’s ash is stored at a specially constructed facility in Putnam, which traps the ash, he said.
He said the allegation by Leibovic regarding the containment of ash is completely unsubstantiated.
Nonnenmacher asked what would happen to all the state’s trash if incineration were discontinued.
“What do we do with the garbage if it doesn’t go into trash energy plants? You would put it on trucks and truck it to a landfill out-of-state and the emissions from those trucks would be far worse,” he said.
During the press conference, Leibovic acknowledged that there currently are no alternatives to incineration in the state. He said the state should strive to establish a “zero-waste system” by reducing the volume of waste, recycling, and creating new incentives for composting.
The third Connecticut-based Dirty Dozen award winner was the Connecticut Environmental Council.
According to its website, the group is dedicated to “clarifying facts and myths on fertilizer, pesticide and water use in our state.”
Leibovic said the active ingredient in many pesticides has been proven to cause cancer in animals and likely humans as well. He said the state legislature passed important laws protecting children from the dangers of pesticides.
“We must not allow anyone to roll back these protections, even if they call themselves the Connecticut Environmental Council,” he said.
Representatives for the council did not immediately return calls for comment. According to literature available on its website, the group seems interested in rolling back state bans on certain uses of pesticides.
Over the years the legislature has enacted laws which ban the use of lawn-care pesticides at preschools and schools with students younger than eighth grade, according to the Office of Legislative Research.
The group argues that “judicious use” of pesticides on athletic fields prevents injuries to students and reduces liabilities for towns by allowing for softer fields.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities also has called for a rollback of the ban, citing the EPA’s support of integrated pest management, which employs some pesticides, at schools.
A bill that would have rolled back the ban made it to the House earlier this year only to be referred to the Environment Committee in April, where it died.
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said the science regarding the negative impact of pesticides on children should be settled by now. But he said powerful entrenched interests keep fighting protections written into Connecticut’s laws. He said lawmakers would continue to fight efforts to end the ban.
“This is, in my mind, settled science. For anyone to suggest that it’s okay for pesticides and children to come together is a travesty,” Steinberg said.