At the beginning of 2020, Oregon PSR began a campaign aimed at closing the waste incinerator that has been in operation for 34 years in Brooks, Oregon, just north of Salem. This incinerator has been burning not only residential waste but also out-of-state medical waste which, when burned, releases toxic chemicals into the air that our communities breathe. We know that not only is spewing toxic fumes harmful to the environment and the health of our communities, but that there are more efficient and truly clean solutions to waste reduction and energy production. We also know that, in order for our waste and energy solutions to be truly equitable, we must include the communities most affected in the conversations as we move towards better solutions.
The Covanta incinerator is surrounded by a predominantly Latinx community, farm workers, and rural residents. Concerns surrounding the health effects of the incinerator include increased cases of respiratory illness which, as we also have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, have hit the Latinx community disproportionately hard. Compounding these concerns were the wildfires in the surrounding area that made local air quality dangerous for all groups. Many of these communities were forced to continue to work picking crops during a global pandemic and unprecedented wildfire smoke in addition to an incinerator in their backyard. These issues have made it clear that we cannot afford to continue burning waste and increasing the risks for these communities.
That is why we lobbied state representatives to vote no on a bill that would have allowed Covanta to be able to receive renewable energy credits during the 2020 Oregon legislative session. We have provided testimony about the health effects of the incinerator, and we have been hard at work building a coalition of community members and educating the community about the incinerator’s effects. We’ve been collaborating with other cities that are also working to close their own incinerators and others that have been successful in that endeavor. We are also working with partner organizations to prioritize systems that move waste away from both incineration and landfills and towards zero-waste solutions that are healthier for both our communities and our planet. We hope that our work will lead to solutions in which all of our communities can take part and which will protect the health of their families.
Image above: The Covanta waste incinerator in Marion County emits toxic smoke into the surrounding community.
This article was written by Carina Perez Europa, Oregon PSR’s Clean Air Organizer in Marion County.