Some of our stakeholders and community members have expressed concern about the environmental and human health impacts of air emissions associated with waste combustion. A comprehensive 2017 review of available literature on air quality health risk assessments and health surveillance programs surrounding EfW facilities was done for the city of Portland, Oregon. The review “determined that there was not a predictive or actual increase in health issues, including for those in vulnerable or sensitive ‘at-risk’ populations such as children or the elderly.”

U.S. 2014 Mercury Emissions by Source (Fig. 3)


Below, we take a closer look at some of the more common pollutants from EfW air emissions.

  • Mercury Emissions. EfW facilities emit a fraction of the mercury emissions from coal plants, representing just 0.8 percent of man‐made sources in 2014, or roughly half that emitted from landfills (Figure 3).
  • Dioxin Emissions. Municipal waste combustors are no longer a leading source of dioxin emissions as they once were in the past, thanks to modern advancements in boiler design and air pollution control equipment. According to recent peer‐reviewed research by Columbia University scientists, the total dioxin emissions of all U.S. EfW plants in 2012 represented less than one‐tenth of one percent of total sources of dioxin.
  • Nanoparticulate Emissions. Nanoparticulates agglomerate into larger particles within minutes of emission, increasing in size and correspondingly decreasing in number. The vast majority of particulate matter, including nanoparticulate, is removed via the air pollution control (APC) equipment installed at all EfW facilities. Recent published studies have concluded that EfW’s emissions were negligible relative to typical exposures in urban environments and highways.

For more information, read Covanta’s white paper, Energy‐from‐Waste & Health Risk.