Emissions data for the incinerator show dioxin emerging at four times the permitted amount — a Ministry spokesman said it's routine for the facility.

The details emerged after Government called for waste-to-energy proposals for Tynes Bay.

The Ministry said it has since received "numerous unsolicited proposals" since the incinerator's extensive renovations in 2010 and needed to set baseline criteria for evaluating them.

A request for proposal (RFP) sent out in April included details such as 2009 emissions data that showed the incinerator releasing the chemical dioxin well over compliance.

Asked by The Royal Gazette if the figures were unusual, a spokesman for Public Works said the release of dioxin is a normal occurrence, and monitored by the Department of Environmental Protection

What is dioxin?

Dioxin covers a variety of chemical compounds that are often unwanted by-product of industrial processes, or the burning of waste.

All dioxin compounds contain the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and chlorine. The molecules are ring-shaped.

A carcinogen and endocrine disrupter. The chemical is also notoriously long-lived.

Since dioxins are repelled by water, but attach easily to fat molecules, they tend to build up in living systems — a phenomenon known as bioaccumulation.

Dioxins gained notoriety from the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, used extensively by US forces during the Vietnam War.

Dioxin compounds are also produced naturally, by the incomplete burning of organic matter.

Useful website: www.epa.gov.

Dioxin is classified as highly toxic; Tynes Bay relies on its high smokestack to dissipate the chemical before it reaches ground level.

"At the time of construction, technology did not exist whereby we could easily capture dioxins," the spokesman said.

Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce chairman Stuart Hayward called the news "discouraging".

He described dioxins as a class of chemicals with "a very bad reputation".

Mr Hayward said the Island had a history of lax standards toward emissions in general, partly because Bermuda's isolated location makes them easy to disperse.

"We tend to set the limits a little bit looser here. There's a feeling that with all this unoccupied space around us, a lot of dilution can occur, but we're still not particularly stringent," he said.

"We set standards for materials because they're harmful, and to avert the worst but if dioxin levels are being exceeded, that should concern authorities and individuals alike."

Catching, storing and disposing of the dioxin would have strained the Island's resources, the Public Works spokesman said.

A mixture of carbon, lime and water in "significant quantities" would be required to capture the substance, all of which would then have to be stored and shipped away.

"Environmental Protection therefore allows us to operate above this limit, with the understanding that if newer technology can provide a solution for Bermuda that we will install it," the spokesman continued.

"As of this year, we may have found a new technology that could be used, but this would have to be implemented with a third stream."

Tynes Bay currently operates with two streams, and blazes through roughly 70,000 tons of waste every year.

The RFP sets Government's requirements for a potential new energy-generating facility at the incinerator including the caveat that any party making a pitch has to be capable of financing its own technology.

Erskine Simons' eco-conscious company Green Ventures (Bermuda) Limited submitted a dioxin-safe proposal on June 27.

An organic chemist and former director of marketing with the pharmaceutical and chemical conglomerate Merck, Mr Simons said he had developed a keen interest in solar energy.

"I saw a huge opportunity for the deployment of these technologies in Bermuda," he said. "It is a virgin market that has adopted these technologies far less than other countries with similar climatic conditions. The whole objective of solar energy is to lower the cost of electricity and reduce the carbon footprint."

The company's waste-to-energy consultant, Mike Miller, described the proposal as "low-temperature gasification" explaining that technically, Tyne's Bay "is not an incinerator".

Temperatures are lower, and waste is processed over 16 to 24 hours under a model developed by the Australian corporation Entech Renewable Energy Solutions, and backed by the company Renewable Energy Management (REM) Incorporated.

The system's technical brochure, provided to The Royal Gazette by Green Ventures, shows how waste is converted to gas fuel. It claims to virtually eliminate the production of toxic fly ash.

"The solution we are proposing will significantly contribute to the electricity generated on the Island, and virtually eliminate the waste problem as well," said Mr Miller, estimating that the advanced conversion technology would cost about $150 million and take roughly 30 months to construct.

Dioxin emissions are "20 to 30 percent of the European Union and California requirements", he added.

The advanced conversion systems, which Mr Miller said has been put into use at more than 150 sites, claim to destroy dioxins and other resilient molecules at a considerably higher rate than conventional incinerators.

The toxicity of dioxin can be gleaned in part from the units in which it is tracked: nanograms per cubic metre, with a nanogram being one billionth of a gram. Bermuda allows for one nanogram in every cubic metre of emission gas; recent data shows the Tynes Bay Incinerator releasing 3.93 nanograms of it.

The Public Works spokesman said Tynes Bay got a clean bill of health in a December 2006 health risk assessment by the firm Roffman Associates Incorporated.

"We basically found no elevated levels of dioxins in the surrounding area. We also did some computer modelling of the stack. Basically although we exceed limits, any fall out is greatly mitigated by the height of the stack which allows for pollutants to dilute to a great degree before they reach sea level and be much less of an impact."

He added: "The stack was purposefully built that high for just that reason."

Useful website: www.rem-energysolutions.com.

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