Medical waste revisited City Council: Having made decision for wrong reasons, some want to backslide.

October 09, 1997

IT IS CLEAR now that 6th District representatives of the Baltimore City Council didn't know what they were doing when they lobbied earlier this year to expand the service area of a medical waste incineration business. Having fought for the expansion so -- as they put it -- a lot of hospitals wouldn't have to burn their own waste and pollute the air, these same council members now say that doesn't matter. They want Phoenix Services Inc. punished for cutting 15 jobs.

Sixth District council members Norman A. Handy, Edward L. Reisinger and Melvin L. Stukes said they were led to believe Phoenix would hire more South Baltimore residents if it was allowed to expand its service area. The company has instead laid off 15 drivers and contracted with a separate company to have medical waste hauled to its Hawkins Point facility. The councilmen feel they were duped, but their earlier decision shouldn't have been based on how many employees the small business has.

Phoenix now has only 60 employees. But even if it had twice that many workers, the economic effect on South Baltimore might not be as great as the environmental impact of having the incinerator there. Phoenix has made vast improvements in the facility, reducing pollutants by half in two years, but it is still a producer of dioxin, which is believed to cause cancer.

When they argued that Phoenix should be allowed to bring in medical waste from a larger service area, the council members said they were concerned that the business otherwise would not survive. But now they are willing to return that company to the same precarious position for the sake of 15 jobs. The thousands of other Brooklyn and Curtis Bay residents among the council members' constituency must be wondering where they figure in this.

If the council is going to reconsider the medical waste incineration law, it should review the actual need for the facility and its environmental impact. Any subsequent decision should be based on those factors, not on whether this company should hire 15 drivers or contract out that work. Labor negotiations are occurring on such issues; the council shouldn't be involved.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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