A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 March 1992
An Enemy of the People ? In 1888 Henrik Ibsen wrote a short play called An Enemy of the People. The story is about a communitys reaction to a local health official after he discovered that the water in their local, and highly profitable, spa was contaminated. In order to protect the small communitys financial base, mostly dependent on the spa, the community is convinced in the end that their greatest threat was the public health official. It appears that what proponents of the incinerator industry want to establish with this video is that Paul Connett, and not incineration, is the real threat to a community. The video, Stop the Incinerator: the Other Side, produced in 1991, is being circulated to communities in the U.S. by representatives of the incinerator industry. (Wheelabrator frontmen doled out nearly 100 free copies of the video to people who went to hear Paul speak in Alabama, NY; ABB frontman distributed it in Havana, IL; Ogden Martin frontmen distributed it in Toronto and Halifax, Nova Scotia; Foster Wheeler distributed it in Montreal, and the video was reviewed and recommended by the pro-incinerator Warmer Bulletin, published in England.) This is the first time, that we know of, where the waste industry has targeted a video attack on one individual. (If any of our readers know of similar examples, please let us know.) The video was produced by Glen Herdman who is trying to site a large regional incinerator ash landfill in the little town of Angelica, Allegany County, NY. The citizens of this town approached Paul for help. He has visited Angelica on at least two occasions (without fee) to explain the dangers of both incineration and ash landfilling, as well as to describe more appropriate ways of handling discarded materials. On his second visit Herdman distributed a bundle of articles from a newspaper in our county (the Ogdensburg Journal) attacking Pauls stand in our own battle against the St. Lawrence County, NY, incinerator (see Waste Not #110-111). You have to know how prejudiced the editors of this newspaper are to appreciate how poor this ammunition was. Thus Paul was able to tackle this attack in his stride. However, Herdman had another trick up his sleeve. He had Pauls presentation videotaped and then commissioned Jon Hand, an independent film maker from Buffalo to attempt to do with video what he had failed to accomplish with bits of paper. This video was the result. (EC).
Paul Connetts response. I suppose I should feel flattered that anyone would devote 45-minutes to attacking my efforts to oppose trash incineration. Clearly, we and others are making an impact. Normally, I have no problem with criticism. We all make mistakes and I make my fair share of them. However, I bitterly resent this attack because it accuses me (falsely) of the kind of distortions and deceptions which I have tried to expose. I do not lie nor do I set out to deceive or obscure. As an educator I take a pride in trying to clarify issues not obscure them. Moreover, I have never ducked a debate on this issue and so if the incinerator industry has any problems with my arguments they have had plenty of opportunity to confront me, face-to-face, in public. The fact that representatives of consulting and incinerator companies have refused to debate me on many occasions speaks volumes for their lack of confidence in these matters. Now, instead of an open debate we are presented with this sneak attack video. Clearly, the incinerator industry feels it easier to debate me when I am not around!
Jon Hand came to St. Lawrence County in the Fall of 1990 ostensibly to find out more about our successful 5 1/2-year effort to stop the incinerator proposed for our county. However, Jon Hand made no attempt to interview me or anyone else who was against the incinerator. By focusing only on one side of the local debate, it will be extremely difficult for someone unfamiliar with our countys politics to unravel the real issues from the sour grapes of the losing side. This kind of selective reporting does not speak well for Mr. Hands fairness or his journalism. He simply came to our county to get the dirt on Connett. Furthermore, when Mr. Hand went outside the county, he sought out people who were either associated with the incinerator industry or earned their living promoting its virtues. In this respect his interview with Gordon Boyd was particularly insidious. While Mr. Boyds comments were delivered with an air of objective detachment, they were actually extremely self-serving because Mr. Boyds consulting company is currently being paid considerable sums of money by Browning Ferris Industries to help them site a huge trash incinerator in the Albany area of N.Y. state (first Bethlehem and now Green Island).
The video is full of factual errors and misrepresentations. Perhaps the most outrageous example of distortion was when Mr. Hand excerpted my presentation on the alternatives to incineration. He left out all I had said about source separation, reuse, recycling, clean composting and toxic removal, and jumped instead to my discussion of the screening of residue, and treated this as if I was talking about handling mixed waste! This was then coupled with horror studies about my suggesting that handicapped adults, seniors and children should be involved with this process. This is a total perversion of my presentation and the positive suggestions I have made about the role of the community resource center to help stimulate community development (see review of our video Wastewise as reported in Waste Not #179).
Mr. Hand also manages to give a highly distorted account of the arguments which raged about dioxin emissions from our countys proposed [250 tpd Harbert-Triga] incinerator. Tom Webster and I have spent a considerable time studying the exposure to dioxin via foodchains. This particularly concerned us because many consultants working for industry (including those employed by our county) either ignored exposure via the foodchains or manipulated key assumptions to minimize the estimated exposure. This issue was extremely relevant for St. Lawrence County, because we are one of the biggest milk producers in New York state. Unfortunately, this issue was repeatedly denied adjudication by the administrative law judge in the permit hearings conducted by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), despite the large amount of evidence we brought to bear on the matter, including clear evidence that lawyers had requested the health risk consultant [Robert Michaels] to lower his risk numbers (see Waste Not #84). The fact that we could not get this issue discussed, even though we had expert witnesses willing to testify under oath from Germany, Holland and from different parts of the U.S., says more about the political control of the permitting process in NY state than it does about the science of the issue.
Mr. Hand does not resolve our countys debate on dioxin by throwing Dr. Rappe into it via editing techniques, several years after the argument raged! While I defer to Dr. Rappes expertise when it comes to his analytical work with dioxin, I am less convinced by some of his broad generalizations about the relative contribution made by incineration to the build-up of dioxins in the foodchains and human tissue. However, one could actually concede the safety of incineration and still reject it as a rational tool of waste management. For me, even if you made incineration safe, you would never make it sensible. It just doesnt make sense to spend millions of dollars in an attempt to safely destroy resources we should be sharing with future generations. I think this last argument has come into sharper focus over the last five years because of three things: 1. Incineration has become more and more expensive as more and more air pollution control devices have to be added to it (lime scrubbers, baghouses, de-Nox equipment and activated charcoal filters). 2. The American people have shown a willingness to recycle at much higher levels than experts had anticipated. 3. The worldwide recognition that human activities are indeed impacting global systems and that we have to move from a consumer society to a conserver society. In the context of these three developments a policy of source separation, reuse, recycling, composting, toxic removal and selective material landfilling, makes far more sense, both locally and globally, than the business as usual approach of burning our waste.
For those who know me, I have little concern about the impact of this tape. Its purpose will be transparent. However, for those who dont know me, but who are opposing an incinerator in your community, I think you can turn this video attack on me to your advantage. Challenge the person distributing the video to debate me in person. If they accept the challenge, it will provide an excellent educational opportunity for the whole community. If they do not, it puts into question their confidence in the project they are promoting.
In conclusion, if I was asked to assess what I had brought to the debate over incineration I would say it was: some basic chemical principles; a vigorous pursuit of one aspect of the dioxin problem; a lot of common sense; a willingness to help other communities; an ability to communicate technical and scientific issues in a language people can understand; a desire to address larger questions than the immediate need to get rid of the trash, and integrity. If this represents a threat to the incinerator industry, sufficient to warrant this kind of video attack, then I think that it reveals more about the incinerator industry than it does about me. Video available from Waste Not. We have a few copies of the videotape that we will make available to our subscribers for a 2-week loan. If you wish to view one please send a check for $5 to cover costs.