SALEM, Ore. — A garbage burner that produces electricity along I-5 in the Willamette Valley must meet new and stricter emissions requirements as it renews its air pollution permit.
The Covanta Marion incinerator north of Salem burns an average of 550 tons of garbage and medical waste a day, the equivalent of about 130 loaded refuse trucks, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
The plant turns the fire’s heat into steam to generate about 13 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power the nearby town Woodburn, population about 24,000.
The plant sits on 16 acres along the east side of I-5, between Salem and Woodburn. It’s operated under a Marion County contract that expires in 2014.
The new permit adds limits for fine particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions, and it tightens limits on other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.
State, local and plant officials told the Statesman Journal they don’t expect the plant will have to make any pollution control modifications. If it did, county taxpayers would be on the hook for the cost.
The plant, in operation since the mid-1980s, already operates within the new limits, said James Regan, spokesman for Covanta Energy. It operates 40 waste-to-energy plants around the country.
The plant has drawn opposition in the past and emits an estimated 16 tons a year of the hazardous pollutant hydrogen chloride, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The department hasn’t gotten any complaints during the current permit period, said Gary Andes, an inspector and permit writer. The Salem area meets federal ambient air quality standards.
Salem resident Susann Kaltwasser, who has worked on local solid waste issues, said she welcomed improvements in emission standards but called for closer scrutiny.
“My personal opinion is that after 20 years of incinerating garbage, there could be significant accumulations of dioxide, lead, cadmium, arsenic and other toxic elements in our soil, and in people, that we do not know about,” Kaltwasser said.