BBC Cymru Wales investigates plans for Merthyr incinerator

The magnitude of the violation... and also the frequency came into playSharon Seligman, Assistant Attorney General, Connecticut
Date: 19.09.2011     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.15
Category: Wales
Tonight BBC Cymru Wales' current affairs programme Taro 9 investigates the controversial plans to build a waste incinerator near Merthyr Tydfil. The programme, shown on S4C, travels to the US to find out more about the company behind the plans.

The developer, Covanta Energy, wants to build the energy-from-waste facility, Brig y Cwm, outside the town of Merthyr. It will burn 750,000 tonnes of non-recyclable household and business waste a year and generate enough electricity to power all the homes in the Merthyr Tydfil and Caerphilly county boroughs. But the plan has generated significant local opposition.

Its investigation takes Taro Naw to Wallingford, in the state of Connecticut in the US. Back in July the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General reached a court settlement with Covanta, over air emissions violations at their plant in the town. The dioxin levels were over double the allowable permit and regulatory level. The company had to pay $400,000 in penalties. This was the second time the dioxins emission levels had been exceeded at the facility. Assistant Attorney General Sharon Seligman handled the recent settlement.

She tells the programme: "The magnitude of the violation... and also the frequency came into play, the fact that there were two violations within three years caused us somewhat more concern."

The company shut down one of the units at the plant for a year to investigate what went wrong. It maintains that across its facilities in the Unites States, it is in compliance 99.9% of the time and it emphasises that the dioxins emissions in Wallingford didn't pose a threat to the public health. Paul Gilman is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Covanta Energy.

"Failure is not acceptable to us," he says on the programme. "We're our own biggest critics as far as we're concerned and we set about making sure that we corrected the problem, we in fact were the ones in both cases that discovered the problem, reported the problem and set about fixing the problem. The first people we called right after we called the regulatory agency was the local town officials and the newspapers to let them know what has happened and what we were going to do about it."

Bob Gross works for an insurance company in Connecticut, and has lived in Wallingford all his life. He is worried about the effect of possible emissions from the plant on his health and others in the community.

"If you're emitting chemicals such as dioxins, cadmium, lead, mercury into the atmosphere and people are ingesting these chemicals in small amounts, it doesn't take much that there is a breakdown in the body, and you have to assume that somebody is getting ill from this," he says.

Campaigners living in the Welsh valleys are also concerned about the company's environmental record. Meryl Darkins, who lives in Tredegar within five miles of the proposed site, already suffers from a lung condition which means she has to take ten tablets a day. She is campaigning against the development and is worried about the effect any emissions could have on her already fragile health.

"Every time I catch a cold, I take ages to get over it, and I'm never as well as I was before. So whenever there are any dioxins or anything like that, they have an effect on my lungs, and I will be more ill than what I was before."

Taro 9, Monday 19 September, BBC Cymru Wales on S4C, 9.30pm

MW