M.S. Thesis: A Health Risk Comparison of Landfill Disposal and Waste-to-Energy Treatment of Municipal Solid Wastes in New York City (NYC)

By Pearl Moy

Advisors: Professor Paul Brandt-Rauf, Environmental Health Sciences; and
Professor Nicholas Themelis, Earth Environmental Engineering

Research submitted for partial fulfillment of an M.P.H. at the Mailman
School of Public Health at Columbia University

June 2005

Waste is an inevitable byproduct of our economy and must be managed in an environmentally sound and health protective manner. Few studies have compared and evaluated the health risks of landfills and waste combustion. Furthermore, experts continue to debate whether landfill disposal or waste combustion poses less risk to human health and the environment. As most of New York City’s (NYC) municipal solid wastes are sent to landfills and some to waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities, it is of interest to assess the health risks of these two waste management options. The present study attempts to compare the inhalation health risks of landfill disposal and WTE combustion in a NYC setting using principles of risk assessment and on the basis of a critical review of the literature on the respective emissions of these two methods. In addition to landfill and WTE combustor emissions, this study considers the health impacts from transporting wastes to waste transfer stations (WTS) and landfills. Both of these technologies have been improved in the last twenty years, landfills by means of the EPA Subtitle D rules and WTE facilities through the implementation of EPA Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standards. Therefore, this study assumes the use of modern landfills and WTE combustors. In addition to the health impacts from landfill and WTE combustor emissions, this study also considers the impacts from waste-transfer stations for landfill disposal and truck transportation of both MSW and WTE ash to landfills. The overall individual non-cancer and cancer risks for landfill disposal and WTE combustion were 1.18E+01, 4.14E-05, 2.30E+00, and 8.33E-06, respectively. Impacts from truck transportation were found to be an important contributor to increased health risk. These results suggest that WTE combustion may pose less health impacts than landfill disposal and provide an initial estimation of the relative inhalation health risks from landfill disposal and WTE combustion. Further investigation is needed to validate or modify the findings of this study.

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