Tough Incinerator Choice

May 10, 1993

The Baltimore City Council will face a tough choice in the coming weeks, when it votes on a controversial bill that would allow a Hawkins Point medical waste incinerator to expand service. This much is clear from the passionate testimony for and against the request at a recent committee meeting.

If the options were only those voiced by the clashing partisans, the decision would be a relatively easy one. Surely no responsible body of lawmakers would let a potentially important medical waste disposal system fail when it can be saved by simply expanding its catchment area beyond the city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties. Unfortunately, things are more complicated than that.

What happens if the council grants the Medical Waste Associates' request to start burning hospital refuse from Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and Carroll counties and the operation still does not make money? Would the incinerator group go bankrupt -- or would it be asking to serve a still wider geographic area?

Medical Waste Associates may not want to think about its current request in these terms. But these are very real concerns among council members and the burner's Hawkins Point neighbors. They feel they have been misled previously by Medical Waste Associates and do not trust the group's arguments or data.

They remember how MWA justified its initial construction request by saying area hospitals wanted a central incinerator. Many did, indeed. But other hospitals opted for separate burners even as the MWA facility was being constructed, undermining the Hawkins Point plant's economic basis and its significance. When it could not get enough business, the incinerator sneaked in more waste from outside its permitted area. This, in turn, triggered protracted legal wrangling with the city and bad feelings that still persist.

This newspaper supported the construction of the Hawkins Point incinerator, believing a central incinerator for area hospitals made sense. We still believe so and recommend that the City Council expand MWA's medical waste collection area.

Getting incinerator-related approvals has become virtually impossible throughout America in recent years. Just last June, the City Council adopted a five-year moratorium. MWA has to know it is under the gun and cannot keep on coming back asking for more favors from the city.

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