Revere Pushes For Some Control Over Saugus Waste Facility

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Boards of health in cities or towns near solid waste facilities would have increased say over operations at those sites under legislation filed by a Revere Democrat and considered at an Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Jessica Giannino filed the legislation as part of a trio of bills aimed at a Saugus landfill and incinerator that she said impacts over 150,000 people in her district as well as a nearby marsh. The other two bills include provisions to cease operations in December 2024 at the earliest (H 932) and prevent companies from constructing landfills, monofills, or ash landfills near designated areas of critical environmental concern (H 930).

Under one of the three bills (H 931), local boards of health within one-half mile of a facility "may adopt reasonable rules and regulations" to protect public health from unnecessary or excessive noise, frequent and unwarranted smoke, and obnoxious odors, the bill says. Those boards can also issue orders, citations, or civil penalties for any violation of the rules relating to controlling noise, smoke, or odors.

"Only those in the town of Saugus actually have the ability to say anything about its operation," Giannino said during the hearing. "And although the incinerator and the landfill are physically located in Saugus, my constituents in Revere tend to be just as impacted, if not more by the operations, the noises, the smells, and also people living on the marsh that this unlined landfill are actually in."

The Saugus site, run by WIN Waste Innovations -- formerly known as Wheelabrator Technologies -- bills itself as a waste-to-energy facility that disposes of up to 1,500 tons of household and business waste every day from 10 Massachusetts communities, according to the company. It also generates 54 megawatts of "clean, reliable energy" for 55,770 homes, the company's website says.

WIN Waste Innovations spokesperson Michelle Nadeau said the site is a "critical part" of the state's environmental and energy infrastructure that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and generates renewable energy.

"Waste-to-energy is preferred by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the use of landfills," Nadeau said in a statement to the News Service. "Waste-to-energy is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world and our Saugus facility is in compliance with all federal, state and local standards, rules and regulations that protect public health and the environment."

But local residents say the site deteriorates air and water quality and poses a risk to two nearby rivers and a marsh labeled by the state as an area of critical environmental concern. Debra Panetta, a Saugus selectman, said residents have requested water and air quality tests, noise monitoring, and an updated health study relative to the WIN Waste Innovations site.

She said it is important to give neighboring boards of health a larger voice in the decision-making process.

"Wheelabrator Saugus is located within, as was mentioned, an area of critical environmental concern, which that's a designation to highlight the areas where special management attention is needed to protect important historical, cultural scenic values, fish and wildlife, or other natural resources," Panetta said. "I don't believe that would ever be allowed today."

Giannino said constructing an ash landfill near a marsh "sounds surreal."

"But unfortunately, we have one in my district, in a very highly-populated area," she said. "And it's one of those things that ... would never happen today but this was over 50 years ago, and we're still dealing with the ramifications of it."

Jillian Howell, a member of the Saugus River Watershed Council, grew up and lived for 22 years a quarter-mile from the facility. She said she watched people fall ill with cancer and was "always wondering how much it was due to the proximity of the incinerator and landfill."

Howell also said the continued operation of the landfill is "especially worrisome given its vulnerability to climate impacts."

"The commonwealth has a website page dedicated to climate change preparations," she said. "This should include closure and capping of an unlined ash landfill built on top of wetlands within a floodplain surrounded by water on three sides."

The WIN Waste Innovations spokesperson pointed to a 2016 Department of Public Health study that evaluated cancer incidence rates. The report, requested by WIN Waste Innovations, found there was not an "unusual pattern of cancer in the community of Saugus."

"In response to the findings of this evaluation, the MDPH does not recommend further analysis of cancer incidence data," the report concluded.

Written by Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS

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