General Assembly passes bill with strict limitations in Rhode Island on high temperature medical waste facilities – ecoRI News


By BRIAN PD HANNON / EcoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE – The General Assembly passed a bill imposing severe restrictions on facilities proposing to use high-temperature technology for the disposal of medical waste, following a debate between the specific location limits of the measure and calls for a total state ban.

The House passed the High Temperature Medical Waste Facilities Act (H5923 Substitute A) on June 30 by a vote of 43-22, after discussing whether many geographic limitations were sufficient to lock up companies proposing to use an extreme heat waste disposal technology called pyrolysis.

The Senate passed the House Bill on July 1 by 32 to 5. Senator Bridget Valverde, D-North Kingstown, introduced the legislation to the Upper House, saying “these facilities do not belong to our State ”and claiming that the measure would essentially ban the pyrolysis of medical waste throughout Rhode Island.

Senator Jessica de la Cruz, R-North Smithfield, said she plans to vote against the bill due to the ambiguity she perceives in the language. In a similar complaint to his colleagues in the House, de la Cruz expressed concern over Valverde’s assurance that the bill “effectively” banned facilities but did not “explicitly” ban them.

The bill is now heading to the governor’s office to be signed, ignored or vetoed.

Rhode Island is the only state currently considering the disposal of medical waste using pyrolysis, which heats biomass to thousands of degrees without oxygen, producing coal, liquid or gas, including methane and carbon dioxide, in a process contributing to air pollution and possible contamination of underground waters.

MedRecycler Inc. has requested approval for a medical waste incineration plant in West Warwick to dispose of up to 70 tonnes of waste per day from the northeastern states. It would be one of the largest medical waste pyrolysis facilities in the world.

Although MedRecycler was not mentioned by name, the prospect of a medical pyrolysis facility operating in one of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities sparked discussion among lawmakers, supporters of the licensing and licensing bill. permits arguing for geographic limits and opponents calling for a total ban so that companies could not identify remote areas outside the scope of the bill’s restrictions.

An original version of the bill was a complete ban on high temperature medical waste treatment facilities. The amended bill debated in the House would require pyrolysis facilities to remain at specific distances from areas and buildings deemed at risk by the biomass process. The boundaries include 2,000 feet of water, open spaces, parks or state management areas, and 1 mile from K-12 schools, colleges, daycares, assisted living facilities and all zoned residential areas. Such installation would be prohibited in towns and villages on the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) map of Environmental Justice Municipalities, which include communities of color and low-income areas that have historically suffered the worst impacts of the world. industrial development.

Representative David Morales, D-Providence, said pyrolysis facilities are “incredibly harmful and dangerous to our public health and further contribute to the problem of climate change” by producing oil, tar byproducts and toxic pollutants such as lead and mercury. He said the waste treatment industry is underwritten by “private out-of-state investors who seek to make a quick profit at the expense of our health and standard of living.”

The debate has at times been fierce, with some lawmakers not only voicing concerns about No-In My Garden (NIMBY), but bluntly stating that they don’t want medical waste disposed of ‘in my backyard’. While agreeing that the facilities had no place in any of their communities, lawmakers argued over whether the wording of the bill would allow someone’s yard to inadvertently become a future pyrolysis site.

Representative Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick, called on her fellow lawmakers to help prevent a high-temperature facility being built in a small industrial park among homes in her community.

“Guess where one of these facilities is offered,” Serpa said. “In my neighborhood. Not five miles away, not in the desert, in my neighborhood.”

Serpa said the facility would import 70 tons of waste normally treated in hospitals each day, including body parts and needles, and implored House members to consider whether they would want the same in their homes. communities.

“Does this belong to my neighborhood?” I do not think so. Does it belong to one of your neighborhoods? I’m sure if it was literally in your backyard you would beg us to adopt it. I’ll be there with you, ”Serpa said, noting that she doesn’t have an alternate plan. “My constituents didn’t send me here expecting me to be an environmentalist, expecting me to be a chemist overnight. I do know one thing, however. They never sent me here thinking that I would deliberately endanger them and do nothing about it.

Parliamentary Minority Leader Blake Filippi, R-Charlestown and others said the place-specific wording in the amendment did not define the exact parameters of the restricted areas, with oversight leaving the possibility of wrongdoing. surprise for a legislator who might later learn his or her neighborhood constitutes the rare area in which high temperature installations could legally operate.

“How is it that, at the time of writing this document, we did not put one of the hundreds of people who work in this building with a protractor and determine where in this state it can go or not,” said declared Filippi. “I want to see a map, and I want to know which district is subject to this.”

Representative David Place, R-Burrillville, noted that without an outright ban on pyrolysis of medical waste, lawmakers were voting for the possibility of “dumping it in someone else’s district.”

“I understand that we are trying to protect some communities, but what about the rest of the communities that we are now opening up to this,” Place said, agreeing with Filippi that the language of the bill has made some municipalities vulnerable. “If it’s that bad, we should just ban it. If we don’t ban it, that means someone else’s community is going to host this thing. Is it going to be yours?

House Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski D-Providence was joined by other supporters of the measure who said the restrictions essentially covered the entire state, while the failed Passage of the amended bill offered the possibility of ending the legislative session without any regulation on companies seeking to make Rhode Island a repository for regional medical waste.

Blazejewski said Rhode Island would have the first facility in the United States to use pyrolysis for the removal of organs, human waste and blood, as well as products such as syringes infected with a host of diseases, including l anthrax, botulism, Lyme disease, rabies and salmonella.

The bill would prevent new technology from operating near waterways, flood zones and state residents, while ensuring that communities in the Economic Justice Zone do not experience additional pollution, he said. -he declares.

“A vote against this bill says Rhode Island is open for business to burn medical waste,” Blazejewski said. “A vote for this bill says that Rhode Island has made a firm statement that we are not going to accept waste from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut. Medical waste, contaminated medical waste, from all over Northeast, Rhode Island.

“Someone said they don’t want it in your backyard. Well that guarantees that it won’t be in your backyard because voting for it means it has to be a mile and a half from any residential area. It won’t be in your backyard.

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