Gary Thuro is angry that a trash-burning incinerator will be built three miles from his home in Frederick and fears that the chemicals billowing from its 270-foot smokestack 24 hours a day will harm his family.
Thuro said the smokestack, which will be visible from his deck, will spew toxic chemicals toward his home and nearby farms, where he buys his meat and produce.
“I have a wife, daughter, mother, and sister that all live less than five miles from this incinerator,” Thuro said, citing a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences that linked pollution to breast cancer in women. “Getting cancer as a result of burning garbage is not something they should have to worry about throughout their lives.”
Thuro let his feelings be known to officials with the Maryland Department of the Environment and Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., the New Hampshire-based company building the incinerator, during a hearing Wednesday night at Tuscarora High School.
The high school in Frederick is just a few miles from where an incinerator or “waste-to-energy” facility, as it is known, because it burns trash to produce electricity, is slated to be built. If the permits are issued, construction would start this year at the 11-acre site.
Thuro and more than 40 other speakers said they were worried about the mercury, lead and other carcinogens that could be released from the incinerator into the air, land and water.
“If the incinerator is built, I may be forced to spend less time outdoors because of my asthma,” said Kelly McQuillen, a senior at Urbana High School. “I ask MDE to deny all the permits.”
The incinerator is slated to be built at the McKinney Industrial Center, south of the city of Frederick and next to the county’s wastewater treatment plant off Buckeystown Pike.
The incinerator has been a long-planned project between Frederick and Carroll counties.
It is estimated that it will cost $527 million to build the facility, with Frederick’s share at $316 million — about 60 percent — and Carroll County picking up the remainder.
The incinerator would be big enough to burn 1,500 tons of trash per day. As it burns trash, the plant will produce 45 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 45,000 homes in the county.
Wheelabrator, which is building the incinerator, will spend up to $3 million for design and permitting. The Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, an independent state agency that helps jurisdictions dispose of their trash, will own the facility.
The hearing was held for residents to tell the MDE whether they should issue three separate permits in March to regulate the incinerator’s impact on the air, land and water.
The school’s auditorium was packed with more than 100 residents, county officials and representatives from MDE and Wheelabrator.
Frederick County Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) told MDE officials that the board was confident that the waste-to-energy facility will meet and exceed the necessary standards for operation.
Young said the facility will be less costly than trucking trash out of the state. Since its landfill on Reich’s Ford Road in Frederick is at capacity, the county is paying $51.51 per ton to transport and dispose of trash at landfills in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
“It’s the most responsible use of limited taxpayer dollars,” he said. “... It’s time for the permits to be issued. This gives Frederick County the opportunity to control our own trash.”
Representatives from the building community also touted the 1,600 private sector jobs the incinerator is expected to bring to the county during the two-year construction of the plant, and the 80 full-time jobs during its operation.
“It will be a great thing for the economy and will bring jobs to the community,” said Sam Bollinger, a contractor from Frederick.
Many residents complained that there should be separate hearings on each permit.
But James Connolly, director of environment, health and safety with Wheelabrator, said in an interview that the MDE has already held three informational meetings in Frederick County, including one in November of 2011 and another in August and December of last year.
Residents at each meeting were given the opportunity to comment, he said.
“We’ve held a number of hearings in Frederick County and Carroll County,” Connolly said. “There was information for the public on each of the permits.”
Connolly also said the waste-to-energy facility will be equipped with new state-of-the-art controls to prevent mercury emissions from escaping into the air — a lesson the company learned after being ordered to pay a $77,500 penalty to the state in 2011 for failure to control mercury emissions released from its south Baltimore plant.
“We learned from that and have now applied [better controls] at all our plants,” he said.
But Gordon J. Oliver, president of Saint John’s Catholic Prep, said his school is 1.5 miles from where the incinerator is to be built, and he worries that students practicing sports outdoors will be exposed to toxic pollutants.
“My concern as head of the school is the environmental impact it will have on our student’s health either in the short term or the long term,” he said.
Thuro said the MDE must ensure the safety of the drinking water, air quality and the environment.
“If you approved these permits you have failed your mission,” he said. “I’m asking you to do your jobs and protect the citizens of Frederick by disapproving these permits to pollute our environment.”