A new $26 million medical waste incinerator in Hawkins Point is burning hospital refuse trucked in from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, angering nearby residents because the controversial facility is barred by city ordinance from taking out-of-state trash.
The incinerator, which began "test burns" in December, is importing about 30 tons of medical waste daily from out of state because it cannot get enough hospital refuse locally to meet its needs, according to George Balog, the city's public works director.
Balog said city officials were studying whether the incinerator is violating a city ordinance that limits it to accepting waste from the city and neighboring counties. He said he intends to discuss the issue with Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
Schmoke, in turn, plans to meet tomorrow with angry residents of the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay areas in South Baltimore, who bitterly oppose the incinerator.
"It stunk from the beginning, and it still stinks," said Dolores Barnes, president of Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn. "We don't know what the heck's burning in there now. How do we know where they're getting this stuff and what it contains?"
"We're asking him to get on the stick and shut them down. They're violating the city ordinance," said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition. Her group, just across the city line in northern Anne Arundel County, has gone to court in an effort to block the incinerator.
Officials of Medical Waste Associates, a group of Maryland investors developing the incinerator, say the facility is using only hospital refuse from the New York and Philadelphia areas to test its burners and pollution controls.
The incinerator is being tested by its builder, Consumat Systems Inc. of Richmond, Va., which also plans to operate the facility.
"Medical Waste Associates doesn't get anything from this [testing]," said Neil Ruther, Medical Waste's general counsel. "We're not profiteering from out-of-state waste."
Ruther contended that the current testing does not violate the city's restrictions. Once the incinerator is ready to operate commercially May 21, it will stop taking out-of-state waste and will limit its market to the Baltimore area, as required by city ordinance, he said.
Three small hospitals already are shipping their waste to the incinerator, but Ruther said that the incinerator operators did not want larger hospitals like Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions shipping waste to Hawkins Point until Consumat has gotten the bugs out.
"The waste streams they're bringing in have to be interruptible," Ruther said. "We can't do that with area hospitals. We designed the system so that once they're in, they're in for good."
Local hospitals now are either burning their own infectious waste in on-site incinerators or paying to have it disposed elsewhere. City and state officials support the Hawkins Point project as a safer, less polluting means of disposing of local infectious waste.
The incinerator has long-term contracts with 21 hospitals in the Baltimore area and expects to burn 68 tons of infectious and non-infectious waste daily, said Michael Murphy, Medical Waste's vice president. The twin-burner incinerator has a practical capacity of 130 tons a day, but needs only 59 tons a day to break even, he said.
But Barnes, the Brooklyn community leader, complained that incinerator officials never said anything about importing out-of-state waste to test the facility.
"They've sworn a lot of things," Barnes said. "We just don't believe them."