The Environment

Toxic threat to nature's nursery?

What an incinerator would mean for local wetlands –– and human health


Part one of a two-part series.

Imagine building an incinerator next to a hospital nursery.

That, critics say, is about what the Village of Freeport would be doing if it were to build a $550 million waste-to-energy incinerator alongside a wetland in south Freeport, near the Merrick border. Plans for the facility appear in doubt (see related story, "What's up with Freeport's incinerator plans?"). But if eventually approved, the project could have serious consequences for the local environment and human health.

According to ecologists, wetlands are nature's nurseries, providing nesting and feeding grounds for fish, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. The proposed incinerator site is at the head of several tidal creeks that flow into the Western Bays of the South Shore Estuary Reserve, a 75-mile-long stretch of wetlands and waterways extending from the Village of Southampton to the Atlantic Beach Bridge.

The New York Division of Coastal Resources states, "The state Legislature found it to be in the public interest to protect and manage the South Shore Estuary system as a single integrated estuary to ensure its long-term health as the foundation of the local economy and a natural and cultural treasure."

Waste-to-energy incinerators produce electricity by burning garbage. On his Facebook page in April, Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick wrote, "Waste-to-energy technology has dramatically improved approaches to the production of electricity within the United States and abroad."

However, the question of how emissions from the planned facility, potentially to be built by the Zhongde Group of China, could affect the nearby estuary –– and human health in surrounding communities  –– is the issue at hand, according to local civic groups and PTAs opposed to the plan.

The answer, it appears, would depend in large part on where emissions from the plant would fall, and that is unclear.

Where the wind blows

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