Toxic Air and Ash Emissions from U.S. Covanta and Wheelabrator incinerators: dioxin, mercury, and other toxic contaminants

Covanta and other incinerator companies continue to have problems with dioxin, mercury, and other contaminants.

Covanta reached a settlement with the Connecticut Attorney General to pay $400,000 for dioxin emission violations at an incinerator. The problems were serious enough to have forced a temporary closure of the incinerator. This BBC article includes an interview with the attorney general’s office about the case.

A 2011 investigative report found that two Covanta waste incinerators were among Florida’s top industrial polluters on an EPA Watch list. These are two of the largest incinerators in the country.

In 2010, the Ironbound Community Corporation of Newark, NJ and GreenFaith won a settlement from Covanta after they sued the company over hundreds of Clean Air Act violations at Covanta’s Newark, NJ incinerator.

Mercury is another serious problem with incinerators. A Baltimore incinerator operated by Wheelabrator (then a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc) was fined for mercury emissions in December 2011.

Research in 2011 by the New York Department of Conservation found that the state’s incinerators (operated by both Covanta and Wheelabrator) emit 14 times more mercury per unit of energy than the state’s coal plants, and overall emit more tons of mercury.


Air filtration equipment doesn’t get rid of air pollutants like dioxin and mercury: toxic emissions captured by this equipment is concentrated in the ash. Ash management is a problem for incinerators, and serious cases of mismanagement have occurred in recent years.

Covanta was linked to the open dumping a football-sized field of ash in Butte County, California, as well as on local farms. Tests of the ash found high levels of dioxin, and it must be relocated to a hazardous waste landfill. Covanta shut down the incinerator in late 2012.

Covanta is not the only incinerator company implicated in ash mismanagement. Wheelabrator (then a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc) agreed to a $7.5 million settlement with the Massachusetts Attorney General in 2011. Accusations by whistleblowers at an incinerator included failing to treat ash according to protocols, and mismanagement of waste water used in filtration systems.