Background to Durham Region incinerator issue

This background document was produced May 9, 2010 for media covering the May 13 rally at Queen's Park.

Who: Regional Municipalities of Durham (78.6%) and York (21.4%)
What: a mass-burn waste incinerator, initial capacity 140,000 metric tonnes/year
Where: the preferred site is on the shore of Lake Ontario in Courtice (Municipality of Clarington),

Brief timeline:

  • Current – Ont. Minister of the Environment decision pending.
  • February 26, 2010 – Ministry Review of EA study issued by Ont. MoE staff
  • December 21, 2009 – Addendum to EA study submitted to Ministry
  • November 27, 2009 – “Amended” EA study submitted to Ministry
  • July 31, 2009 – “Final” EA study submitted to Ministry

If approved by the Minister of the Environment, Durham-York’s incinerator operated by Covanta Energy Corp. in Clarington would be the first mass-burn municipal solid waste incinerator built in Ontario since the Algonquin Power "Energy-from-Waste" incinerator in Brampton began operation in 1992.

Durham and York Regions started out as 50/50 partners, with York Region dropping down to 12% at one point. York currently has a 21.4% stake in the project.

The consultants’ preferred site – designated as Clarington 01 – is a property owned by Durham Region, located in Courtice (Municipality of Clarington) on the shore of Lake Ontario west of the Darlington Nuclear Generating station, east of Courtice Rd., south of Hwy.401 [MAP]

In April 2009, Durham Region Council selected Covanta Energy Corporation of New Jersey to design, build and operate the incinerator. If approved, Durham’s project could be the first Covanta built incinerator in Canada. Covanta operates 44 incineration (EFW) facilities in North America and recently assumed operation of the Burnaby incinerator in British Columbia. Covanta Energy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002 and was acquired by Danielson Holding Corp. (Chicago).

The estimated project cost for a 140,000 TPY incinerator was $272.5 million in June 2009, up from previous estimates ($236 million in April 2009, $198 million in May 2008). Operating costs were estimated at $14.67 million per year. The EA study documents show the incinerator would be operated by a staff of up to 33 full-time personnel (Amended EA Study document, Nov 27, section 10.9). Any future potential project scope changes beyond the proponent’s control, including provincial approvals or changes in legislation, could impact costs.

Though Durham politicians and staff promoted the incinerator as a “Made in Durham” solution, incineration residues – both fly ash and bottom ash – would be trucked to landfills in New York State. Fly ash, residue collected from the air pollution control equipment, is considered hazardous waste. Though Durham Region has agreed to stop shipping household garbage to Michigan landfills after December 2010, the region plans to ship its waste instead to New York State starting January 2011.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment recently consulted on proposed revisions to the A-7 Guideline for air emissions from municipal waste incinerators (MOE Environmental Bill of Rights Registry posting #010-5887). The proposed revisions are technology based, developed using the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) principle or, in the case of the dioxin and furan limits, the Lowest Achievable Emission Rate principle

If approved as proposed, Durham’s incinerator would not be a "state of the art", as claimed. The proposed emissions operating criteria would not meet the proposed A-7 guideline revised limit for carbon monoxide, organic matter as methane and dioxin, should these revisions be approved. Dioxins are highly toxic and persistent organic pollutants that are a by-product of combustion.

In June 2009, Durham Region councillors delegated authority to Chair Roger Anderson to execute a contract with Covanta. A recent motion asking council to consider reviewing a draft contract was ruled out of order by Chair Anderson on March 31, 2010. That same day, six registered citizen delegations were denied an opportunity to address council on this matter.

Environmental Assessment (EA) study:
Durham and York Regions began their residual waste Environmental Assessment (EA) study in 2005. After screening out Zero Waste and landfill options from consideration, the two Regions adopted “thermal treatment” i.e. incineration, as recommended by their consultants.

In a 16-12 vote June 24, 2009, Durham Region voted to submit the EA study to the Ministry of the Environment, with York Region voting the next day. Durham and York Regions submitted a so-called “Final” Environment Assessment (EA) study to the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) on July 31, 2009. An “Amended” EA was submitted to MoE in November 2009. An Addendum and several revised appendices were released in December 2009. In the Amended EA, the project description was significantly revised. Last July, the two regions were seeking EA approval for an incinerator with a capacity of up to 400,000 tonnes per year (TPY). According to the Amended EA, any subsequent expansions beyond 140,000 TPY would now be subject to additional EA approval requirements.

During the initial public inspection of the EA ending September 25th, 2009, citizen reviewers’ submissions to MoE identified many errors, omissions, information gaps and inconsistencies in the EA study documents submitted last July. Many concerns were still not addressed in the Amended EA documents nor in the Ministry Review released February 26, 2010.

Though citizens had requested an additional public inspection period to respond to the Amended EA and the Addendum – as was granted to MoE’s Government Review Team, the Ministry of the Environment did not grant one to the public.

After screening out Zero Waste and landfill alternatives from consideration in the EA Terms of Reference approved by MoE in March 2006, the two Regions moved quickly to adopt "thermal treatment" i.e. burning garbage (incineration), as recommended by their consultants, in June 2006.

The principal consultants on the project Genivar and Jacques Whitford (now a division of Stantec) were at the time members of the Canadian Energy From Waste Coalition, an industry organization comprised of operators, manufacturers, consultants and clients.

Environmental and health:
Durham Region Council’s decision relied a great deal on a report by Durham’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Kyle. Dr. Kyle is not on record as saying it is safe. In his report, he relies on the opinion of two reviewers who concluded "the proposed EFW should not pose unacceptable risks to persons living in the vicinity of the site" (Durham report 2009-COW-01). Dr. Kyle’s report only considered the risk assessment study for 140,000 tonnes/year, though at the time the two regions intended to seek EA approval for a much larger 400,000 tonnes/year incinerator.

The Clarington 01 site was recommended before air quality data collection for short-listed sites were complete and despite documented concerns about the already poor air quality conditions in the Courtice area. EA study documents have confirmed that Courtice already has the highest ambient values of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a respiratory irritant, when compared to other urban communities such as Sarnia, Oshawa, Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor. See Figure A-2-4 on page A-15 of Air Quality Appendix A at:

EA study results also show that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels are already elevated in the area and are very close to exceeding the Canada Wide Standard. Ozone levels already exceed air quality criteria. Expert reviewers and citizens have identified major concerns with how risk was characterized in the EA study for these key pollutants. The incinerator will add significant quantities of these key pollutants to the air shed.

Energy from waste:
The design specification calls for a waste stream with "high heat value" (HHV) of 12.8 MJ/kg to generate up to 13.6 MW of electricity (Durham Region RFP 604-2008 Appendix 1). Durham’s waste stream was estimated at 13MJ/kg, with plastics, cardboard, paper and food waste (which could be recycled or composted) providing the highest heat value per weight (Appendix C-3, Energy and Lifecycle Analysis). The proposed incinerator does not include pre-sorting to remove recyclable materials from the feedstock.

To run efficiently, the incinerator must run continuously at 75% or more of full capacity. Emissions of CO2 are estimated at almost one tonne of CO2 per tonne of waste burned (138,000 tonnes CO2 per 140,000 tpy, table 8-2, Appendix C-1 – Air quality assessment). At that rate, the emissions would be 1.16 tonnes CO2 per MW of energy produced, higher than the equivalent coal CO2 emissions, 0.950 tonnes (US DOE). Consequently, the electricity produced displaces electricity from lower emission sources, notably at times of low electricity demand.

Recycling results in a much greater energy gain, simply by not having to undergo all the energy intensive steps required to extract primary resources used to manufacture the same products. Recycling results in energy savings up to five times that produced by burning.

The EA energy and lifecycle analysis is partly based on “district heating”, where low level heat is used for heating. There is no infrastructure (pipes or buildings) currently in the vicinity of the proposed incinerator to receive this heat.

Municipality of Clarington, designated host community:
On January 23, 2008, Durham Region adopted Clarington 01 as the preferred site despite public and peer reviewers’ concerns. On January 28, 2008, Clarington Council in a close 4-3 vote declared the municipality “Unwilling Host” to an incinerator. Over a year later in a surprise reversal, when Councillor Gord Robinson changed his vote at a May 15, 2009 Special Council Meeting, Clarington became a “conditional” Willing Host to the incinerator, subject to a final Host Community Agreement (HCA) being executed between Clarington and Durham Region. Clarington’s Mayor Abernethy executed the HCA in February 2010. In a 4-3 vote, on March 1, 2010 Clarington Councillors voted to not review the municipal solicitor’s concerns around the HCA though they had requested such a review in May 2009.

Clarington opted not to review the “Final” or “Amended” EA study documents and submitted no comments during either of the two public inspection periods. Clarington Council had abruptly terminated the work of the municipality’s peer reviewers in early July 2009, prior to the EA being submitted to the Ministry of the Environment. At a council meeting February 8, 2010, in a close 4-3 vote, Clarington councillors declined to hire expert reviewers to review any of the amended EA documents.

According to the Host Community Agreement, it appears that the operator will be allowed to self monitor.


Durham/York Incinerator “Final” July 31.09 EA Documents can be found at:

Amended EA, Addendum, Revised Appendices at:

Ontario Ministry of the Environment Code of Practice: Preparing and Reviewing Environmental Assessments in Ontario (7258e October 2009)

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