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EPA says asbestos-destroying technology not ready for primetime

An asbestos-neutralizing process being considered to help clean up a Connecticut Superfund site may not be able to handle the toxic waste.


That’s environmental regulators’ latest assessment of “thermonuclear conversion,” a technology its creators say “results in permanent destruction” of inorganic compounds such as asbestos. Developed by ARI Technologies, the process involves mixing contaminated waste with de-mineralizing agents and then heating the material in a rotary hearth furnace.


A group of residents in Stratford, Ct., wants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider using thermochemical conversion to detoxify waste at the Raymark Superfund site.


But the Connecticut Post reports that federal and state environmental officials told town leaders this week that the process will not work on lead or copper, toxins that along with asbestos are prevalent in soil at the Raymark site. The Superfund site is composed of numerous areas in town where manufacturing waste from a former industrial facility was dumped.


"We have real concerns about the viability of the technology," said Larry Brill, chief of remediation for Superfund sites in New England for the EPA. "This basically is an incinerator."


ARI Technologies has used thermochemical conversion to immobilize five tons of toxic waste, including asbestos, at U.S. Department of Energy facilities. The company has also conducted demonstration projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and at the DOE’s Hanford facility, the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.


The projects were all successful, according to ARI Technologies President Dale Timmons.


But the Post reports that the process has never been used on a project like the Raymark site, which has a unique mix of toxins, including fragments of asbestos-containing automotive brake pads.


"There's an awful lot of uncertainty," said Jim Murphy, a community outreach coordinator for the EPA. "We don't know what's going to happen. It may work, it may not."


Regulators said the company would need to conduct a $1 million to $3 million pilot test to determine whether the technology will work on Raymark waste. But it's unclear whether ARI Technologies is willing and able to cover the cost, the Post said.


Erin Holroyd, a town resident and co-founder of Save Stratford, nonetheless urged regulators to move forward with the pilot.


"We've clearly (thrown) away more than $100,000 on other things that have moved us nowhere," Holroyd said. "So this is just another option. This is just another shot. Why would we not take it? This is something that it potentially better than anything else we've had available to us before."