A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 March 14, 1991


Known as MERC, a 3-year old, 500 tpd RDF incinerator
in Biddeford, Maine

MERC, the Maine Energy Recovery Co.’s incinerator in Biddeford is owned by KTI, a partnership of 4 parties: Kuhr Technologies Inc.; CNA Reality, Chicago; Energy National Inc., Oregon; and, Project Capital, New York City. General Electric built and operated the incinerator up to August 1988 when KTI fired G.E. as operator of the incinerator due to persistent complaints of highly offensive odors and constant break-down problems. MERC disposes the ash at a landfill in Hampton, Maine, 120 miles away.

The MERC incinerator in Biddeford has been the most controversial project in the history of Biddeford and neighboring Saco. 100% of the pediatricians in Biddeford and Saco have come out in opposition to the MERC incinerator. It is losing an average of $500,000 on a monthly basis. There is complex litigation ranging from lawsuits against G.E. from KTI; lawsuits against KTI from Biddeford and Saco; and citizen litigation suits are currently underway. The litigation from Biddeford and Saco revolve around the issue that they had signed on to 20-year contracts that offered 31 communities tip fees averaging $9-12 per ton. KTI says it will face financial collapse if new tip fees aren’t agreed to by April 15, as it needs to secure 50% in contracted waste for its new re-financing. There were originally 31 towns that had contracted with MERC for waste disposal. In the last year these towns have been in the process of re-negotiating their contracts. Deaf to the concerns of its constituents, Biddeford and Saco has renegotiated new 17-year contracts with MERC with tip fees of $21.50 a ton, and with the other communities at $47.80 per ton. MERC contracts out for waste on the spot-market. They also burn wood chips. The Bank of Tokyo holds the bonds on the incinerator. For the last three years there have been continuing offensive odors from the facility in the summer months. When the incinerator was proposed for Biddeford there were only a handful of people who spoke out. Over its three years of operation, opposition has grown and intensified. The question of ash disposal is creating another whirlwind of controversy as the state of Maine is planning two regional ash fills for Maine. The Biddeford/Saco area has been identified as a potential site. Neither the residents, nor the officials who signed onto 17-year contracts with MERC, want the ashfill.

Siting: The MERC incinerator is located in the middle of the city of Biddeford on the banks of the Saco River which empties into Biddeford Pool, a tidal mud-flat area that provides habitat for shore birds at the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. Biddeford is regarded as the commercial and business center for the surrounding tourist areas. It is located 6 miles from Old Orchard Beach, and approx. 10 miles from George Bush’s summer home in Kennebunkport. (Kennebunkport sends its trash to the MERC incinerator). There is a housing development aprox. 450 feet from the incinerator. Within a quarter mile of the incinerator are three parochial schools. Located approx. 5 miles from the Atlantic. Lobstering is the most important fishing industry in the area. The incinerator quench water goes through the Biddeford sewer treatment plant which ends up in the Saco River. Five miles downstream of the incinerator is the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, created in 1966 by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This a scattered 4,000 acre refuge for fish-eating shore birds such as great blue herons, egrets, cormorants, buffleheads, goldeneye. The endangered peregrine falcon and roseate tern, and the threatened piping plover (categorized under the federal Endangered Species Act) are fish-eating migrant visitors to the Refuge. In 1990 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service performed a screening survey of sediment samples at the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. They tested for: lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, organichlorine pesticides, chlorinated pesticides, PAH’s. They did not test for dioxins because of the expense involved. The results of this sediment sampling have not yet been released. This is the first sediment sampling at this refuge, according to US Fish &Wildlife contaminant specialist Ken Carr. The sediment sampling report on the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge will soon be available from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, 22 Bridge Street, Concord, NH 03301.

March 31, 1989: “Catastrophic Failures” of the Bag House System. In the Fall of 1989 Saco and Biddeford were showered with ash from the baghouse on three occasions. According to the state toxicologist Robert Frakes: “Based on the information provided by the DEP and on our calculations, it appears that certain subgroups of the population may have been exposed to unacceptable levels of lead, and, to a lesser extent, dioxin.’...Pregnant women who ate a large amount of homegrown vegetables daily may have received does of lead and dioxin which exceed safe levels. The likelihood of toxic exposure depends on how well the vegetables were washed...” Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection, Press Information, 3-31-91. On 7-6-89 the state fined the MERC incinerator $300,000 “for a history of lax operation symbolized by the periodic ash showers that blanketed the city last year... Journal Tribune, 7-6-89, front page. See also Waste Not #s 59 & 62.

August 7, 1990: BIDDEFORD CITIZEN ARRESTED AT A CITY COUNCIL MEETING. The Biddeford City Council passed a ruling which stated that the public will not be allowed to speak at city council meetings, unless they have spoken to their council people in advance, and have been given the approval to speak. Joanne Twomey, an active incinerator opponent, spoke at the meeting to inform the public that the MERC incinerator was operating without an air emissions licences. Biddeford Mayor Bonita Belanger had Joanne Twomey arrested. She was taken to the police station in handcuffs, and charged with criminal trespass. Those charges were dropped on 3-12-91- the same week a jury trial was to be held.

February 18, 1991: “A study by toxicologist Robert Frakes of the state Bureau of Health concludes that dioxin levels in Maine fish and in mill effluents are higher than levels that have caused cancer, birth defects and spontaneous abortions in experiments in animals. Another study, by the state Department of Environmental Protection...says dioxin levels in rivers polluted by Maine industries [mainly paper mills] violate federal and state water laws.” Journal Tribune, Biddeford, pg. 6.

February 12, 1991: “By a 4-3 vote, the [Saco] City Council Monday authorized Mayor Mark D. Johnson to sign the long-term contract Wednesday..Only Saco residents were allowed to speak, in two-minute allotments...[Residents argued] that signing the MERC contract violates the city’s purchasing ordinance and city charter because: The purchasing ordinance requires the council to seek bids on a purchase over $1,500. The MERC contract is in excess of $1,500, and waste handling was not put to bid...The charter also requires that any city employee who has a substantial interest in any contract with the city must make that interest known and refrain from participating in the making or performance of the contract. Those planning the lawsuit argue the requirements extends to City Solicitor James F. Boone. Boone and his partner, City Solicitor Edward L. Caron, and Lewiston attorney Jeffrey A. Thaler, who is leading Saco’s lawsuit against MERC, were hired on contingency. They will split 33.3 percent of MERC’s initial $250,000 settlement with Saco and another $l.5 million the city may receive within nine years...” Journal Tribune, page 12.

February 5, 1991: “Facing a storm of curses and recall threats from more than 300 people Monday night, a sharply divided [Saco] City Council squashed an attempt to have a referendum on the 17-year contract with the Maine Energy Recovery Co...It followed a three-hour public hearing...Those who voted against the motion...were assailed by angry residents following the meeting and found themselves backed against walls as they tried to leave...” Journal Tribune, front page.

February 4, 1991: The Maine’s People Alliance (MPA) “released a report today revealing the MERC incinerator violated two of its air emission standards 690 times during 1990. The report Significant Maine Energy Recovey Company Air Permit Violations for 1990, states MERC exceeded its carbon monoxide (CO) standard 311 times and its sulfur dioxide limit (SO2) on 379 occasions. One hundred twenty of the violations are considered exempt from enforcement action due to federal/and or state requirements...” This report is available from the MPA, 20 Danforth St, PO Box 17534, Portland, ME. Tel: 207-761-4400.

February 1, 1991: Letter from David M. Strassler, M.D. “To whom this may concern: My opinion has been requested by members of my community concerning the Biddeford MERC plant and the well-being of my patients. I have no objective data to say that there have been more medical problems in any specific population of people since MERC has been functioning several years ago. Subjectively though, I feel I’ve been seeing more upper respiratory illnesses in the last several years that I cannot account for by the usual trend of infectious problems. Before I would feel comfortable recommending the extension of MERC’s contract, I think it would be to the benefit of our community to have a professional epidemiologist review the health data in the neighboring areas. With concern, David M. Strassler, M.D.”

For more info contact John Diffenbacher-Kroll at Maine’s People Alliance, tel: 207-761-4400.

WASTE NOT # 142 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.