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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county
An Incinerator in Disguise?
Plasma arc facility proposed for Watsonville:

August 2008

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors could move forward a proposed plasma arc facility at their August 12 meeting without requiring an Environmental Impact Report. The facility, proposed by a company called "adaptiveARC," is being promoted by the company as a "waste to clean energy" technology and an alternative to landfills. AdaptiveARC has proposed to build the facility without charge as a demonstration project. If approved, this would be the very first of such facilities to be sited in the United States.

The proposal has evoked opposition from community and environmental groups who want the County to perform a full environmental review on this unproven technology. Groups which have called for an Environmental Impact Report include the Pajaro Valley Coalition for Environmental Justice, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, the National Resources Defense Council, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and Sierra Club.

Encouraged by the County Public Works Department and the Board of Supervisors, adaptiveARC has submitted a permit application to the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District for an Authority to Construct and Permit to Operate. County officials have expressed their intention to fast-track approval of the plasma arc facility without an Environmental Impact Report in the hope that it can begin operating later this year.

Despite the claims that this would be a "demonstration facility," the adaptiveARC website reveals a three-phase plan that would lead to a large commercial waste facility at the proposed "Eco-Park" next to the landfill (and near an agricultural labor housing site and major high school). This facility could treat 400 tons per day of garbage and possibly sewage sludge including waste imported into Watsonville from outside the county. Phase three of the project would include more than doubling the size of the so-called demonstration plant by adding two plasma reactors and one additional gen set combustion engine (incinerator) operating as a full-scale commercial operation.

Although the company and county officials claim that the plasma technology is not an incinerator, in fact the process does involve incineration. The plasma arc would use intense heat to gasify the garbage, creating a "syngas" that would then be burned in a diesel-fired internal combustion engine. The stage of burning the syngas is the incineration process that results in the emissions of some pollutants into the air. An EIR could determine the nature and toxicity of such emissions which could include dioxins.

Greenaction has researched plasma arc and gasification facilities around the world, and has documented problems with these technologies here in the U.S. and elsewhere. There have been only two commercial plasma arc facilities for waste treatment in the U.S., and both have had serious problems. More information about facilities, including the problem-plagued Hawaii Medical Vitrification facility in Honolulu and the closed Allied Technology Group facility in Richland, Washington, is available in a report titled "Incinerators in Disguise," written by Greenaction and GAIA in 2006. To see these reports visit

For more info visit, or call the Pajaro Valley Coalition for Environmental Justice, 726-6032.

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