Person after person stood to warn the plant will add to air pollution in Allentown, threatening human health. Delta Thermo’s president argued it will be environmentally beneficial, including a better alternative to burying municipal waste in landfills.

He said when the plant is operating, the city’s trash trucks will not have to drive 50-75 miles to landfills, which will reduce air pollution.

And he said the plant actually will increase the amount of recycling done by the city, because all metals, glass and ceramics will be removed from garbage taken to the plant. He said plastics will not be recycled, but will become part of the fuel.

The proposed plant

The proposed plant will burn about 167 tons of Allentown’s trash and sludge every day.

Unlike a traditional incinerator, it will not simply burn municipal solid waste, which Van Naarden said produces high levels of pollutants.

He explained the key to Delta Thermo’s project is material conversion.
The company plans to turn municipal waste and sewage sludge into “a clean, pulverized fuel” – using high pressure, temperature and steam.
“It is not waste any more once we’ve converted it. It is a clean substance to burn.” He also described it as inert and free of bacteria and hazardous materials.

The Delta Thermo plant will burn that fuel to produce steam, which will generate four mega-watts of electricity, enough to serve about
4,000 homes.

Van Naarden said traditional incinerators have stacks that are 150 to
200 feet tall, but the stack on Delta Thermo’s plant will rise only
2.5 feet above the 55-foot-high roof. A DEP air quality expert said it will extend four feet above the roof and that the plume coming from that stack will consist of only steam. He said it will be more of a vent than a chimney.

Earlier this year, Van Naarden estimated the plant would cost $49 million. He had hoped it would be completed by next August. After Wednesday night’s meeting, he put the cost at $40 million.

Van Naarden described the proposed plant as “a negative pressure building,” meaning that even when its truck bay doors are opening, no trash or odors will get out of the building. One of his associates said no odors will come from the plant.

Allentown is first site for Delta Thermo

Van Naarden said 42 other North American cities are considering a Delta Thermo plant, but indicated Allentown is much further along in the approval process.

He said Allentown is first because Mayor Ed Pawlowski wants the city to be first -- “to be a center for new technology, a center for excellence and to set the example on how waste should be handled properly, without landfills or incinerators.”

“This will be the cleanest waste facility in the United States of America,” boasted Van Naarden, who was introduced as Delta Thermo’s owner. “We should be proud of that.”

Allentown resident David McGuire read a statement by former Allentown City Council member Michael Donovan, without mentioning that Donovan is running for mayor against Pawlowski.

Donovan wrote that too many financial and health risks remain unanswered to allow the Delta Thermo project to go “unchecked and unanalyzed.” He called on DEP to “take a close look at this project and take steps to ensure it never happens in Allentown.”

The Delta Thermo president said the plant’s technology is new for North America, but successfully has been used for many years in Europe and Asia. “The Europeans and Asians are probably 30 to 40 years ahead of us in how to handle waste.”

He said Delta Thermo has three major engineering companies and five universities -- including Lehigh University in Bethlehem -- working on the plant process and design.

The Delta Thermo president said emissions from the plant continuously will be monitored and reported to the city and DEP on a monthly basis, adding those reports then will become public.

Some people at the meeting suggested a public website should be established so everyone can view that “real-time monitoring.” Van Naarden said the city rejected that idea, but added: “If the city said yes and DEP said yes, of course we’d do it.”

Much of the debate about air pollutants became too technical for anyone with less than a degree in chemistry.

The Delta Thermo team seemed to duck some questions. When someone asked about the differences between Delta’s Thermo’s proposed plant and a traditional trash incinerator, one Delta Thermo official began comparing it to a coal-fired plant. (They said U.S. coal-fired plants emit significantly higher levels of chemicals.)

And when the Spanish-speaking man asked if Delta Thermo executives would want to live near the plant with their own families, he did not seem to get a direct answer.

While some residents said they never knew it existed, Van Naarden said Delta Thermo has a seven-member citizens advisory board for the plant that is supposed to go into the community and address issues. He said that board includes an officer in the Lehigh Valley Sierra Club.