Regional Solution to Medical Waste ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

June 24, 1993

Trying to win approval for waste incinerators these days is virtually impossible. Despite assurances by experts that modern technology enables safe high-temperature incineration, politicians and voters are leery.

This region is no exception. A year ago, the Baltimore City Council adopted a moratorium banning expansion or modification of incinerators.

Despite that strict moratorium, the council recently showed remarkable flexibility in coping with the complexities of the waste-management issue. It rejected simplistic arguments and voted to allow Medical Waste Associates' existing 150 ton-a-day hospital refuse burner in Hawkins Point to widen its catchment area. As a result, that mechanically and financially troubled incinerator can try once more to get its affairs in order.

This has been a highly controversial issue in northern Anne Arundel County. Still, we think the Baltimore City Council did the right thing. The incinerator's capacity was not altered. To pull the rug from underneath the Hawkins Point facility would have endangered a $24 million guarantee the state made for its construction three years ago. A number of other lien-holders -- from subcontractors to the city -- might have lost money, too.

"I voted for the incinerator, holding my nose, because both sides stunk," Councilman Anthony Ambridge said after the recent 11-6 decision.

It is easy to understand his sentiment. Smelling blood, the beleaguered incinerator firm's rivals descended on the council like vultures. They said they could dispose of hospital waste cheaper and more efficiently. They argued the Hawkins Point incinerator's existence discouraged participating hospitals from recycling and, therefore, hurt city efforts to meet a state recycling mandate.

Medical Waste Associates, for its part, could offer no convincing defense. Although its principals include many civic-minded Baltimoreans, the outfit has established a lamentable record of broken promises that has infuriated North County groups.

Yet its fundamental premise -- that hospital waste is best disposed of at a central facility -- remains one to which this newspaper subscribes. We strongly believe that waste management is an area where aggressive regionalism can and should be practiced.

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