Politics & Government

EPA permit allows Sauget incinerator to emit heavy metals into the air, activists say

Community groups protest outside of Veolia in Sauget

The United Congregations of the Metro-East, Community Development Sustainable Solutions, among others protested outside of Veolia Trade Waste Incineration in Sauget, IL after the Environmental Protection Agency granted a new permit to the facility.
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The United Congregations of the Metro-East, Community Development Sustainable Solutions, among others protested outside of Veolia Trade Waste Incineration in Sauget, IL after the Environmental Protection Agency granted a new permit to the facility.

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 accepts waste 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.

Critics speak out against the permit

During a news conference Wednesday outside of the Veolia location, Mamie Cosey, of East St. Louis, said there are times she doesn’t allow her great grandchildren to play outside because of the air quality.

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

The Rev. Jennifer Warren Hauser of the First Presbyterian Church in Granite City said not monitoring for heavy metals, in her opinion, could potentially be fatal.

“What we don’t measure, will still kill us,” Hauser said. “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.”

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.

De la Garza said the groups plan to file an appeal with the EPA before the permit goes into effect in July, which would open up another comment period.

“We’re going to have multiple communities coming from both sides of the river, voicing, and this movement is going to grow,” de la Garza said. “We’re tired of being marginalized, we’re tired of environmental racism, and we’re tired of environmental disasters in our backyard.”

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, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.