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EPA Permit Allows Sauget Incinerator To Emit Heavy Metals Into The Air, Activists Say

Veolia's incinerator in Sauget, Ill.
Eli Chen
St. Louis Public Radio
Veolia's incinerator in Sauget, Ill.

The Environmental Protection Agency is allowing Veolia North America-Trade Waste Incineration, a facility in Sauget that runs a hazardous waste incinerator, to relax heavy-metal emissions monitoring, local environmentalists say.

A new permit issued by the EPA, which goes into effect on July 18, requires Veolia to install and operate mercury emissions controls on two incinerators that previously did not have mercury controls. The facility acceptswaste such as propellants and explosives, reactive metals and poisonous materials for disposal, according to the company’s website.

However, environmental groups say under the new permit, Veolia will be able to emit a harmful level of heavy metals into the air.

St. Louis Public Radio reported last year, during the public comment period, that the latest EPA permit for Veolia removed the requirement for multi-metals monitoring devices. 

“Like the 2017 permit, the final 2019 permit continues to include significant improvements to Veolia’s feedstream analysis procedures,” the EPA said on its website.

Veolia said it worked with the EPA to ensure it is in compliance with regulations set under the Clean Air Act.

“We have also improved the Sauget facility with new capabilities to ensure it will continue to consistently operate in compliance with our permit limits in the future. We are committed to safety and have not had any air pollution violations in the past,” Carrie K. Griffiths, vice president of communications for Veolia North America said in an emailed statement.

The federal agency required the facility to install “activated carbon injections systems,” devices that would reduce mercury emissions, the station reported. The devices don’t monitor or reduce other kinds of metals, which led to objections from residents and environmental activists, KWMU reported.

Concerned activists have said it wouldn’t be enough to protect public health.

The final permit issued is identical to the draft permit that was released for public comment in July 2018, according to the EPA’s website.

The United Congregations of Metro-East, a group that organized protests against Veolia, said the permit, which was ultimately approved, allows Veolia to contribute to poor air pollution which causes asthma, lung cancer, respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease.

UCM, along with southern Illinois-based group Shawnee Hills and Hollers and Community Development Sustainable Solutions in East St. Louis, helped organize people to submit comments to the EPA about Veolia’s permit, urging the agency to reconsider its July 2018 draft permit.

Ultimately the EPA decided to stick with the July 2018 draft.

“Our communities continue to be marginalized,” the three groups said in a news release late Tuesday night. The groups plan a news conference on Wednesday.

Georgia de la Garza, a spokeswoman for the three groups, said the pollution emitted by Veolia affects everyone in the region, not just those immediately close to the Sauget business.

“It doesn’t benefit one single resident ... It’s being dumped on St. Louis also,” de la Garza said, referring to area wind models.

She added it also affects people further south in Illinois.

Veolia said in its statement the technology to do what environmental groups want is not used in the industry.

“Certain environmental activist groups want Veolia to install continuous multi-metals emissions monitors,” Griffiths said. “This technology isn’t proven yet and is not currently used at any hazardous waste incinerators across the globe. Once it becomes available and can be a reliable technology to monitor metals, we will support its use at all commercial hazardous waste incinerators across the United States.”

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat.