Pontiac’s garbage incineration and nanoparticles

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My expertise on nanoparticles is limited to attending a talk at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York by an active researcher on the topic in 2015. IIRC, she worked for New York State public health, with funding from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority). NYSERDA itself is funded by a surcharge on electricity bills in NY and is maybe the last large public interest funding authority still around.

Nanoparticles are quite scary. Partially because nobody has looked at them before, so the potential risks are unknown. So far, all people are doing is looking at the particle size and the pathways into the body, including the brain.

My own research interest (woodsmoke) is in the composition of the particles. For example, with PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 microns) which is regulated by US-EPA with woodsmoke, we see two main types of aerosol particles: soot and tar, also known as EC and OC (elemental carbon and organic carbon).

With dirty stoves you see tar, which comes from smouldering combustion (no flame), basically – tiny liquid droplets. You see it as blue smoke because the particle size is near the wavelength of blue light. With clean appliances like pellet stoves (and masonry heaters) you don’t get tar, but you do get soot on startup (elemental carbon, pure black), which causes issues with global warming. It took me a long time to track down the difference in health effects between them. A Swiss study I came across found that tar is 10 times as toxic as soot. Measured by feeding it to rats and counting how many died, the US-EPA limit for woodsmoke PM 2.5, is 2 grams per hour. However, the outdoor boiler 2 grams are 10 times as toxic as the pellet stove 2 grams.

Therefore, if I measure a masonry heater and find, for example, that it emits 1% of the PM (particulate matter) of an outdoor boiler, you would assume that an outdoor boiler is 100 times as bad for your health. In fact, because the outdoor boiler is making tar instead of soot, it is 1000 times as bad for your health, burning the exact same piece of wood.

Now, carry this over to an incinerator, where you are burning not wood, but who knows what. AND at very high temperatures, where things like chlorine from vinyl make chlorinated compounds like dioxin that are ultra poisonous, not to mention persistent, and it is a whole other ballgame. Throw in nanoparticles, which we are only just starting to look at, which it looks like are capable of transporting the dioxin directly into your brain past the brain/blood barrier, and you are playing a very dangerous game, indeed.

With nanoparticles, they are so small that they basically don’t weigh anything. This means that the existing PM regulations, even for industrial emitters, have no meaning on a weight limit basis.

“Google, how much do nanoparticles weigh?”

Google:  There are a billion 60nm particles in 1 microgram.