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CDC To Investigate Whether Sauget Incinerator Is Poisoning Air With Heavy Metal Emissions

The Center for Disease Control will conduct an investigation into pollution from the Veolia North American-Trade Waste Incineration facility in Sauget.
Joseph Bustos
Belleville News-Democrat
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will conduct an investigation into pollution from the Veolia North America-Trade Waste Incineration facility in Sauget.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will investigate whether a waste incinerator is poisoning people in Sauget.

A federal agency within the CDC is expected to announce Wednesday it will conduct a preliminary investigation into “potential health hazards” from pollution near the Veolia North America-Trade Waste Incineration facility.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry plans to determine if the Sauget incinerator is causing heavy metal poisoning.

“The people of Sauget deserve a full investigation into the potential health concerns stemming from the weakening of pollution controls at a local waste facility, and I’m encouraged by the announcement of a federal review of this very serious problem,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), whowrote a letter to the CDC requesting the investigation.

A permit issued by the EPA that went into effect July 1 required Veolia to install and operate mercury emission controls on two incinerators that didn’t previously have them.

In June, however,local environmentalists said the Environmental Protection Agency had allowed Veolia to relax heavy metal emissions monitoring.

The facility takes waste such as propellants and explosives, reactive metals and poisonous materials for disposal, according to the company’s website.

The environmental group at the time said that under the new permit, Veolia would be able to emit a harmful level of heavy metals into the air. In October, Duckworth raised the issue with EPA inspector general nominee Sean O’Donnel.

In June, Carrie K. Griffiths, vice president of communications for Veolia North America, said in a statement that the technology that environmental groups are demanding it use has not proven to be reliable in measuring heavy metal emissions.

“Certain environmental activist groups want Veolia to install continuous multi-metals emissions monitors,” Griffiths said in an emailed statement to the BND. “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.”

In the statement, Griffiths added that Veolia had worked with the EPA to ensure the facility is in compliance with regulations set in place 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,” Griffiths said.

At a news conference outside the incinerator in June, East St. Louis resident Mamie Cosey said she doesn’t allow her great-grandchildren to play outside because of the air quality.

“Whenever they’re burning, it affects the elements, because you can come outside at night and the skies are red,” Cosey said.

The Rev. Jenniffer Warren Hauser of First Presbyterian Church in Granite City said if the heavy metal output isn’t monitored, the plant could be fatal.

“What we don’t measure will still kill us,” Hauser said in June. “You can’t choose what air you breathe, but we have the right to know what is in it. This revised permit removing this monitoring requirement is a travesty [and] a pandering to multinational corporations, by an administration that doesn’t care [whether those living in] the Metro East live or die.”

Kanahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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