A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 August l, 1990


Background on the Swan Hills hazardous waste incinerator

On line September 11, 1987. Cost $60 million. 2 Rocking kilns incinerates 13,500 tons per year (tpy) .
Rocking kiln designed by VON ROLL of Switzerland In 1990 an 8,000 tpy rotary kiln was installed.
60% owned by Bow Valley Resource Services, a 100% owned subsidiary of Bovar Inc.
40% owned by the Alberta Provincial Government
Supervisor, Operator, Manager: Chem Security Ltd., a 100% owned subsidiary of Bovar Inc.
Swan Hills: population approx 2,500. Remote community approx 125 miles northwest of Edmonton
Economic losses to the Alberta Government for first three years: approx $70 million
Waste handled: all hazardous waste except nuclear and explosives
Current Proposal: a 40,000 tpy incinerator expansion.
If approved Swan Hills would incinerate more than 54,000 tpy
3 Workers at the hazardous waste incinerator in Swan Hills found to have high levels of PCBs in their blood. “Three workers tested at Alberta’s hazardous waste treatment plant in Swan Hills were found to have high levels of PCBs in their blood. Plant general manager Jack Selby confirmed yesterday routine medical testing of the three employees in January revealed PCB levels between 30 and 50 parts per billion. Acceptable levels of polychlorinated-biphenyls, which have been linked to cancer in laboratory animals, are between 20 and 30 parts per billion. The three were working in an area of the plant where PCBs are incinerated.” The Hamilton Spectator, Ontario, Canada, June 5, 1991, page F-ll.

Poisoned fish and animals found near Swan Hills. “After three years of operation of the Alberta Special Waste Treatment Centre near Swan Hills, tests have found PCBs in small rodents and mercury in fish near the plant...Data from ongoing biological monitoring showed elevated concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in small rodents and vegetation as far as five kilometers from the treatment centre between June 1989 and February 1990. Chem-Security (Alberta) Ltd., the company that operates the special waste treatment plant, says ‘the slight increase was well within acceptable limits [and] do not constitute a health hazard to humans or wildlife.’ Nonetheless, after the company determined that the PCB residues resulted from ‘fugitive emissions’ from the plant, the PCB transformer processing area was shut down...” The Mirror - Northern Report, January/February 1991, page 9.

Elevated levels of PCBs found near the Swan Hills Alberta Special Waste Treatment Center (ASWTC). “PCBs were not detected (detection limit 0.05 ppm in whole body tissues) in vole tissues during baseline monitoring or during the first year of ASWTC operations (1988). PCBs were first detected in vole tissues during June 1989 monitoring at 5 of 13 monitoring stations. PCB levels ranged from 0.06 to 0.14 ppm in whole body tissues. In September 1989, PCBs were not detected in vole tissues from 13 stations monitored but were present in two shrew samples (0.16 to 0.22 ppm). Supplementary monitoring in February 1990 found PCBs in vole tissues in all 10 sites sampled with levels ranging from 1.5 to 160 ppm in fat tissue and 0.21 to 9 ppm in whole body tissues. Results from regular and supplementary monitoring in June and July 1990 show PCBs were detected in vole tissues from all 40 sites examined. PCB levels ranged from 18 ppm in fat tissues and 2.7 ppm in whole body tissues from sites within 100 m of the perimeter fence of the ASWTC to trace amounts at the more distant sampling sites...The concentrations of PCBs in vole whole body tissues were greatest from sites immediately adjacent to the ASWTC and decreased with distance...”pages 4-97 to 4-98. Environmental Impact Assessment for Proposed Expansion of the Alberta Special Waste Treatment Center (ASWTC), Vol. 2, June 1991, prepared by Chem Security (Alberta) Ltd. and available from ASWMC, 610, 10909 Jasper Ave, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 3L9, Canada. Some Background on the Swan Hills operation. Ken Simpson, president of the Alberta Special Waste Management Corporation, told Waste Not that there is routine medical testing of employees beginning from pre-employment to every several months. Mr. Simpson said Chem Security has their own medical consultant to monitor the results of the medical testing. Mr. Simpson said that Chem Security ran a literature search on PCB levels of workers in the industry, and that the higher levels found in Swan Hills workers was average for people in the industry, and only slightly higher than the general population. According to The Hazardous Waste Consultant, Vol. 6, #1, Jan-Feb, 1988, Swan Hills “is well suited for the treatment and disposal of hazardous wastes because it is remote, has no agricultural value, supports no prime habitat, has no potential for flooding, and encompasses no surface water...Physical/Chemical Treatment. Inorganic wastes [capacity: 5,000 tonnes per year] are treated by neutralization, precipitation, oxidation and/or reduction in the physical/chemical treatment plant prior to disposal...Stabilization. The stabilization plant uses a pug mill to grind wastes prior to mixing with stabilization agents. In the mixer, each waste is custom-treated with asphalt, lime, fly ash or cement kiln dust. The material is then discharged from the mixer into trucks for placement in the landfill cell. Landfilling. A series of landfill cells are planned at the Swan Hills facility, but only one is currently operating. This cell is covered by a steel shed to prevent precipitation from entering the area. Only solid wastes (i.e., inert incineration residues, stabilized solid wastes, and stabilized solid residues from inorganic treatment processes) are placed in the landfill. Deep Well Injection. A deep well (approximately 6,700 feet) is used for disposal of treated wastewaters. This includes wastewaters from inorganic treatment, incinerator scrubbers, truck decontamination, and if necessary, site run-off.”

Pollution Controls. Rocking kiln incinerators: quench scrubber, venturi scrubber, prescrubber & cooling tower, 2 ionizing wet scrubbers. Rotary Kiln: quench scrubber, venturi scrubber, acid gas absorber.

FREEDOM FROM INFORMATION: The Alberta Occupational Health & Safety Agency (OHSA). When Waste Not read about the elevated PCB levels found in routine blood testing of workers at the Swan Hills plant we called the Alberta OHSA agency. (In the U.S. its called OSHA). Joe Miller, Director of OHSA Communications in Alberta informed us that his agency did reports and investigations at Swan Hills, and that “no information relating to our inspections or into incidents or related to specific health information of workers” would be available to us, or to any other member of the public. According to Miller the OHSA protects “the job security of workers.” Mr. Miller also informed us that OHSA reports “are not admissible in a court of law”!!! Thus, this controversial incinerator is well protected by the Alberta OHSA which conducts its investigations and research at taxpayers expense.

In a 1990 Special Report on Swan Hills, John McInnis, a member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly wrote: “...Bow Valley Resource Services has the most lucrative sweetheart arrangement I’ve encountered in more than fifteen years researching similar arrangements...The losses are somewhere in the $40-$50 million dollar range over this two year period. All of these losses have, of course, been paid by the taxpayers and Bow Valley has earned a substantial return on its investment. If the provincial government wishes to terminate the Bow Valley contract, the taxpayers may have to compensate the company for ten years estimated lost profit under the deal...” PROBLEMS WITH VON ROLL’S ROCKING KILN TECHNOLOGY. “There are major problems with the technology employed at Swan Hills. The big problem is two rocking kilns designed by a Swiss engineering firm called Von Roll. These kilns were designed in Switzerland and constructed in Calgary. The technology employed is in operation nowhere else in the world. The rocking kilns have not been able to perform the function for which they were designed, i.e. the combustion of liquid and solid waste. The solid organic wastes must be agitated in such a way that every surface is exposed to the flame. The rocking design not only has failed to achieve that, but the kilns themselves have been damaged in the attempt to do so. Substantial maintenance and other work is being done on Von Roll kilns in order to make them function...”

For more information contact: John McInnis, Legislative Assembly, Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6, Canada, tel: 403-297-2222; or Brian Killeen at Greenpeace, 1726 Commercial Drive, Vancouver V5N 4A3, British Columbia, tel: 604-253-7701. (See also Waste Not # 89 on a Vesta (not Versar as noted in WN #89) mobile haz.waste incinerator that operated at Swan Hills but has since been ordered shut down.)

WASTE NOT # 159 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.