Bill prohibiting medical waste facilities in residential areas approved

Signs against medical waste facilities were erected in East Greenwich earlier this year when news broke that a medical waste incinerator was planning to move in at the town’s border. 

 

The General Assembly last week approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Justine A. Caldwell (D-30), and Sen. Bridget G. Valverde (D-35) that would prohibit new medical waste incinerators from being too close to certain areas in the state. 

The bill said particularly a medical waste incinerator should not be adjacent to residences, schools, nursing facilities, and any at risk environmental areas, and is still awaiting Democrat Gov. Dan McKee’s signature.

“We’re very happy with passage of the bill,” said co-sponsor Caldwell. “We’ve really moved forward with not burning medical waste and plastic in the state of Rhode Island. We’re pretty progressive in this area.”

“I’m very happy,” said Valverde, “that we will be able to keep such a facility out of the entire state. MedRecycler is the first to apply for this in the state, and I’m sure that it will not be the last.”

Valverde added that the approved bill was sent to the governor on July 6, but she is unsure of when he will sign it into law.

The facility that was proposed by Manalapan, NJ based-MedRecycler-RI Inc., for land at 1600 Division St., West Warwick would have burned 70 tons of medical waste each day from the whole of New England. Although the facility would technically have been located in West Warwick, the location was on the border of East Greenwich.

As of press time, MedRecycler had not returned telephone calls or emails seeking comment.

According to MedRecycler’s application with the state DEM Solid Waste Division “the facility will house a pyrolysis system where organic fractions of the waste will be evaporated and sent to engines that will produce electricity. Other products are produced such as oil and tar and these will be recycled through the system. Off-gas products will be conditioned prior to release via a stack. Emissions from this pyrolysis system are well below the Air Toxic Standards regulated by the Department of Environmental Management for Rhode Island. Pyrolysis system will be supplied by Technotherm, Inc. located in South Africa.”

 When news of the plan hit, residents from West Warwick and East Greenwich formed groups opposed to the proposed project, with Caldwell and Valverde promising to do everything they could to help block it.

Now with both the legislature and senate approving the Caldwell/Valverde bill, and the governor expected to sign it into legislation within the coming weeks, residents and local town officials are hopeful that MedRecycler will site its incinerator outside of Rhode Island.

Neither MedRecyler nor Technotherm have any experience operating a medical waste incinerator in the United States. Technotherm operates facilities in South Africa with MedRecycler having no experience. In it’s filing with the DEM, MedRecycler says, “Medrecycler-RI will be the owner and operator of the waste to energy facility. This will be the first waste to energy project for MedRecycler-RI. MedRecycler-RI relevant project experience is mainly related to alternative energy especially Solar Energy.”

In the DEM filing submitted in July 2020, it explains how the process would have worked had it been permitted, “Overall process takes medical waste (MW), received by a transporting company, and thermally processes it in a pyrolysis system operating at 800°C - 900°C (1,472°F - 2,1652°F). Organic matter from the MW is evaporated forming a syngas that can directly be used as a fuel source for electrical generating engines. Oil and tar are produced where the oil is recycled through the pyrolysis system to make more syngas, and the tar is used to heat a vitrification system where solids from the process are vitrified and made inert. Exhaust from the engines are sent to a drying unit where the MW is dried prior to be introduced into the pyrolysis system. All gasses are sent to a Thermal Oxidizer where they are conditioned for release to atmosphere via a stack at a temperature of 850°C (1,562°F).”

According to those groups opposed to the incinerator, it would have been sited behind a child-care center, near a number of residential neighborhoods, and across the street from the New England Institute of Technology.

The legislation was also aimed at protecting homes, businesses, schools and vulnerable environmental areas all over the state, none of which should be “exposed to the potential dangers of medical waste incineration,” according to a statement from the office of the legislature.

“We’re not saying ‘not in my backyard.’ We’re saying this shouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard. Our community has spent a lot of time and money litigating this issue and our neighbors have been put through months of worry about the pollution and risks that might be coming their way. We don’t want other communities to have to go through the same thing,” said Valverde in a statement.  “Out-of-state developers are not going to use our state to make a buck by bringing medical waste into our neighborhoods, burning it at high temperatures and releasing pollution into our environment.”

Caldwell agreed.

“This facility shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, but especially not anywhere near where people live, where children spend their days, or near our water or other environmental resources,” she added. “Our legislation ensures that it isn’t, and that Rhode Island doesn’t become a destination for other people’s trash. Importing dangerous medical waste from out of state and burning it at high temperatures has obvious risks and it undermines our efforts to stop air pollution. No one should have to fight a proposal like this in 2021.”

The proposed facility drew hours of testimony opposing it during a DEM hearing on its solid waste facility license application, including many community members from East Greenwich and West Warwick, abutting businesses, environmental advocates and elected officials, according to the legislature press release.

State Attorney General Peter F. Neronha had gone as far as calling for the approval process to be halted until the company could prove the technology safe not only for the environment but for public health as well.

Wording in the legislation said that “the approval of licenses for any high-heat medical processing facility located within 2,000 feet of water, open space, parks, floodplains, flood hazard areas; or within one mile of pre-existing public or private schools, colleges, child care facilities, assisted living facilities, nursing facilities or areas zoned for residential use; or within any municipality designated in whole or in part as an environmental justice municipality” would be prohibited.

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