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City Preparing $500 Million Gamble to Incinerate Garbage

August 15, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Critics of a new $500 million Chicago garbage incineration and electrical generation plan are pointing out that other cities have canceled similar plans worth an estimated $4 billion in the last 18 months.

″The technology itself is a dog,″ complained one critic, Brian Lipsett of the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste.

Despite uneven success with such garbage power plants, including two already built in the city, proponents say as many as 10 incinerators would be built under the plan, which also calls for the city to sell the steam and electricity produced to defray costs.

Lipsett and other critics contend that garbage plants emit cancer-causing chemicals and produce tons of ash laden with poisons such as lead and arsenic, and that taxpayers routinely get burned because such incinerators run over budget, break down repeatedly and fail to meet optimistic projections on how much revenue they will generate.

Industry officials, however, counter by pointing to the success of a $288 million, state-of-the-art incinerator now operating in Bridgeport, Conn., that has helped that city avert a garbage crisis.

″You’ll find success stories where projects have come in under budget and ahead of schedule and have operated as designed,″ said Jack Lyman, spokesman for the Solid Waste Management Association.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says 140 municipal garbage incinerators are operating and that another 200 are planned.

Chicago now buries about 85 percent of its garbage - about three million tons annually - in landfills. About 13 percent is incinerated at Chicago’s one working plant on the Northwest Side and the remainder is recycled.

But with the Illinois EPA estimating landfills will be full by 1991, the city has turned its attention to waste-to-energy plants.

The city plan calls for as much as 55 percent of Chicago’s waste to be burned by the year 2000 at between two and 10 plants, depending on the size of each. An 18-month study already is underway to determine how to pay for those plants and where they should be located.

The city, meanwhile, has had mixed results with incinerators.

The Northwest Side facility has burned garbage 24 hours a day for 17 years, consuming about 1,000 tons a day, and producing industrial steam that’s sold to a candy company nearby for $1 million a year.

But a second plant on the Southwest Side, built at a cost of $27 million, was mothballed in 1979 after only 1 1/2 years of irregular service.

Mayoral aide Leroy Bannister Jr. says the city has learned something from both and will put that knowledge to use when it moves forward with the new plan.

″We’re not going to be reckless and support unproven technology,″ he said.

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