Florida is well known for its beautiful beaches and its booming economy, but the state is also becoming increasingly notorious for something else: its trash burning. Over the past few years, an incredible number of waste-to-energy incinerators have popped up, turning the Sunshine state into a breeding ground for hazardous air pollution. Residents of the state have called out the dangerous health consequences of trash burning – and the government for allowing it.
With a booming population of nearly 21 million, Florida is generating a hefty supply of trash year after year. To combat it, the state has gone for the cost-effective option of waste-to-energy incinerators. In a way similar to a coal-fired power plant, the incinerators convert waste to energy by burning it and capturing the resulting heat to produce steam. From here, electricity can be produced.
But while trash burning in Florida appears to be the most cost-effective and convenient option, residents of the state are deeply concerned by the health risks. Burning of rubbish produces toxins such as dioxin, lead, cadmium and mercury – all of which are highly carcinogenic. Furthermore, there are also particulate matter, such as asbestos and other pollutants, that can be released into the air. In response to these health risks, many local residents have staged protests against the incinerators. They complain of sore throats, nausea, skin irritation, eye irritation and severe headaches due to the poisonous airOften the symptoms only occur after several hours of exposure to the toxins produced by the trash burning.
The response from the Florida government has been generally supportive. In 2018, the state approved new permits for 29 waste-to-energy incinerators and plans to continue adding them. However, in response to the outcry from residents, the state has pledged to undertake an extensive study to evaluate the health impacts of the incinerators. In 2020, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched its “Florida Incinerator Emissions Study” with the purpose of looking into the potential negative health impacts of burning waste.
Despite the efforts of residents and the official evaluation study, the issue of trash burning remains and continues to plague the state. For residents of Florida, the burning of rubbish is becoming an inescapable reality. Until a more functional system for managing waste can be devised, the residents of Florida may have to continue to put up with the unhealthy consequences of burning trash.