Refuse incineration data for New York City (NYC) have been compiled as a function of time during the 20th century to assess the historical significance of this pollutant source in a densely populated area. Thirty-two municipal and 17 000 apartment house refuse incinerators were identified. Approximately 1.1 x 10(8) t of refuse (wet weight) were combusted in NYC incinerators between 1908 and 1993, producing 3.4 x 10(7) t (dry weight) of combustion residue disposed in local landfills. Refuse incinerators were operated for most of this period without air pollution control and emitted 1.0 x 10(6) t of particles (a total of 120 mg for each cm(2) of land in NYC). Incinerator particle emission (PE) rates per unit area of land were highest in Manhattan (equivalent total deposition of 530 mg cm(-2)). Incinerator PE exceeded 1.2 x 10(4) t yr(-1) between 1930 and 1975, with maximum emission rates (>2.2 x 10(4) t yr(-1)) in the late 1930s and 1960s. These and other factors support the conclusion that refuse incineration without air pollution control was an important source of airborne, respirable pollutants in NYC for many decades during the 20th century. Rates of particle emissions from Manhattan incinerators estimated here correlate strongly with Ph accumulation rates as a function of depth (time) in Central Park Lake sediments, consistent with refuse incineration emitting large amounts of atmospheric lead in NYC for many decades after the 1920s.
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