Facility allowed to import waste Incinerator can take medical material from 250 miles away

March 11, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Over opposition from Curtis Bay and Brooklyn residents, a sharply divided Baltimore City Council approved a bill last night allowing the incinerator at Hawkins Point to collect medical waste from any city within 250 miles of the facility.

The council's 11-8 vote rolled back statutes that limited Hawkins Point Medical Waste Incinerator in South Baltimore to receiving trash from a handful of Maryland counties.

The bill was discussed for almost two hours before the vote.

Supporters said the incinerator has been burning 67 tons of trash daily, far below the 150-ton-a-day limit set by the state and needed to take in more waste to become profitable.

"We have to give this facility the opportunity to compete and survive," said 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, a chief supporter of the bill. "That means we have to get the medical waste from wherever the medical waste is."

But opponents of the measure were unmoved.

"I do not believe the health of our citizens is something that should be traded away to accommodate this business," said Council President Lawrence A. Bell III. "Let other cities take care of their own waste."

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley asked the council to limit the area from which the incinerator can draw business to 140 miles. His proposed amendment was defeated 12-7.

"If we have a state-of-the-art facility, we must use it," said 2nd District Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, who voted in favor of the bill. "I don't want hospitals to burn their own medical waste. Their facilities do not meet the standards set by the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]."

The passage of the bill yesterday marks the second time that the waste incinerator -- the largest in the nation -- has been allowed to expand the area from which it can receive medical waste. In 1989, the council set the area to include nearby counties, but in 1993 it widened the area to include Prince George's, Montgomery and other counties.

Several South Baltimore residents attended last night's council meeting and were disappointed with the vote, even though they won a small victory. An amendment that would have allowed the incinerator to draw up to 40 tons of waste daily from areas outside the 250-mile limit was withdrawn.

"If history is any indication, that just means we'll be back here to fight another battle in a few years," said Doris McGuigan, who has lived in the Brooklyn Park area for 48 years. "It's unbelievable that anybody would go along with this when they know of the high pollutants and cancer rates in our area."

Medical-waste incinerators are a chief source of dioxin, considered by the EPA a "probable" human carcinogen. In addition to dioxins, the medical-waste incinerator produces pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Residents of Curtis Bay and Brooklyn opposed the 1988 construction of the incinerator and its expansion in 1993.

The owners then, Medical Waste Associates Inc., filed for bankruptcy in 1994 after losing most of its hospital customers. It was caught illegally importing out-of-state waste and paid thousands of dollars to settle state pollution charges.

Since taking over the incinerator, Phoenix Services Inc. has spent nearly $4 million on improvements, according to company President Richard D. Montgomery.

Montgomery has said that if the council approved the measure, the company will add 15 jobs to the 74-member work force and will look within the 6th District first to fill the added positions.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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