Letter to the Editor: Deny Permits for MedRecycler Facility

by | Mar 9, 2021

As residents of West Warwick, East Greenwich and nearby towns, we are writing to oppose any permits for MedRecycler to build a medical waste pyrolysis facility in West Warwick. Pyrolysis, which has been called a “high risk, low yield processes for waste management,” (GAIA 2017) is a potentially hazardous technology that is inappropriate for a residential neighborhood. The nearby residents of West Warwick and East Greenwich -– who bear all of the risks of this dangerous technology, both for human health and the environment – would have no control nor even knowledge of the hazardous waste imported to our towns every day.

Medical waste is known to contain persistent, bioaccumulative toxins like mercury, harmful plastics and other toxins that cannot be eliminated by pyrolysis. We are concerned about potentially harmful air and water pollution from MedRecycler damaging our health and environment, including substances known to result from pyrolysis: carbon dioxide, lead, mercury, dioxins, furans, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ash, and char. Given the two daycare centers and a college in close proximity to the proposed site, it is shocking that a facility emitting lead alone would be allowed to operate nearby. Additionally, with residential neighborhoods surrounding the site, we are especially concerned about the health effects of dioxins – known to cause cancer, liver and endocrine damage, infertility, birth defects, and environmental harm – and the potential for radioactive waste to come to the facility (www.epa.gov/dioxin). During DEM’s January 25, 2021, Public Informational Workshop on Facility’s License Application, project developer Nicholas Campanella admitted that he intends to expand the facility to accept medical waste from throughout the northeast; he said that he chose this site partly due to its proximity to I-95. West Warwick and East Greenwich are not a highway off-ramp for hazardous waste. We are communities of kids, parents, and elders – including childcare centers, higher education, local businesses and residential neighborhoods in close proximity to the MedRecycler proposed site.

As residents who are deeply rooted in our hometowns – personally, professionally, financially, and historically – our voices of opposition should be heard in contrast to the developer, who wants to come to Rhode Island from New Jersey to bring technology from South Africa that is previously untested on medical waste. Those of us who live in East Greenwich, including several neighborhoods that would be directly impacted by emissions from this facility, feel particularly disenfranchised by this ostensibly democratic process. Given that the facility’s driveway and access roads are actually in East Greenwich, as Rep. Justine Caldwell has stated, East Greenwich “will have the emissions … and the questionable material being brought into the area without anyone on the receiving end ensuring that it is safe and that its contents are what it purports to be. It is unconscionable that our town leaders would have no standing in this matter when the abutting properties are in East Greenwich.”

We encourage DEM to apply the Precautionary Principle, an established tenet of environmental law, to this decision. Since pyrolysis has never been used to treat medical waste, the true risks are currently unknown. The residents of West Warwick and East Greenwich do not consent to our children, our families, and our neighborhoods being used as guinea pigs for an untested technology, which could cause unknown harm. What happens if there is a malfunction, an accident, a fire, or unpredictably harmful emissions from this plant? How do you reverse that damage? Once the children at the two nearby daycares are exposed to lead from the MedRecycler facility, how do you undo that harm? The answer is: it is impossible. Therefore, DEM should err on the side of caution to protect human health and the environment. “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” – Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, 1998

The fact is, there is nothing “green” or “recycled” about MedRecycler. Pyrolysis is barely distinguishable from a medical waste incinerator with a green-washed name, and medical waste incinerators are notoriously toxic, polluting facilities that are inconsistent with residential communities. This is the definition of regulated medical waste:

  • Pathological waste. Tissues, organs, body parts, and body fluids removed during surgery and autopsy.
  • Human blood and blood products. Waste blood, serum, plasma and blood products.
  • Cultures and stocks of infectious agents (microbiological waste). Specimens from medical and pathology laboratories. Includes culture dishes and devices used to transfer, inoculate, and mix. Also includes discarded live and attenuated vaccines.
  • Contaminated sharps. Contaminated hypodermic needles, syringes, scalpel blades, Pasteur pipettes, and broken glass.
  • Isolation waste. Generated by hospitalized patients isolated to protect others from communicable disease.
  • Contaminated animal carcasses, body parts and bedding. From animals intentionally exposed to pathogens in research, biologicals production, or in vivo pharmaceuticals testing.

Especially now, in the age of super-infectious COVID-19, these are not appropriate materials to import to this site. On the same January 25 call, Mr. Campanella admitted that he plans to start by processing 70 tons of medical waste/ day, but he chose this site partly because he can expand in the same building to accept up to 140 tons/ day. Industrial facilities are as imperfect and fallible as the humans who manage them. They malfunction, have accidents and do not always perform as planned. With the predicted volumes of hazardous waste, even small accidents can have a big impact on the surrounding community. We are concerned about machine malfunctions, accidents, spills, fires, toxic emissions, worker safety, first responder safety, environmental harm (air, water, wildlife and ecosystems), and the health of all of the people who live and work near or downwind of this site.

Rhode Island’s medical waste regulations germane to pyrolysis (specifically sections 250-RICR-140-15-1.F.5.a(3) and (4) concerning the approval of “Alternative Technologies”) require that for DEM to approve any alternative technology to treat medical waste, the technology must be “proven, on the basis of thorough tests to: . . . (3) Be protective with respect to total impact on the environment; and, (4) Ensure the health, safety and welfare of both facility employees and the general public.” MedRecycler — with so many unknowns about the technology itself, combined with the unquestionably hazardous nature of the materials being treated — clearly does not come close to reaching that bar.

Furthermore, we want to stress that our opposition to this facility does not rest on the “Not In My

Back Yard” theory of local protectionism. Rather, this facility does not belong in anyone’s

backyard. Zooming out from the local perspective to a statewide, national, and even global view,

the facts are clear that our state, nation and world are experiencing a climate crisis. It is long past time to reject the polluting technologies of the past, such as burning plastics and other wastes that contribute to climate change, and look to a truly greener future. In fact, Rhode Island is in the midst of debating whether to strengthen our greenhouse gas emission limits with the new Act on Climate bill, currently pending in the legislature. In her recent State of the State address, Governor Raimondo said, “Rhode Islanders can be proud that we are the state leading the nation in the fight against climate change.”

Rhode Islanders are justifiably proud of our beautiful coastal environment, and in this small state, we care deeply about the well being of our neighbors. Therefore, we ask DEM to prioritize the health and environment of Rhode Island families over the profits of this speculative developer, and deny any permits for MedRecycler.

Katie Silberman lives in East Greenwich and is working with a coalition of EG and West Warwick residents — more than 1300 of whom have signed onto this letter — to oppose MedRecycler. To learn more or sign the letter, please contact: [email protected]

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20 Comments

  1. Bob Freedman

    Sorry, but this wreaks of “not in my backyard”. You have no idea about the effects of this process. You are simply making assumptions that have been disproven by the REAL scientists who have analyzed this method and have given it a very positive review. We, as a company, are in the land preservation business and we prefer not to have landfills overwhelmed with medical waste. That is truly detrimental to the environment. The system being deployed by MedRecycler is MUCH better for the environment overall. The net result for disposal is superior to the alternatives. I am sorry about the folks who chose to live near an industrial park, however, they can not be trying to stop good, clean, energy efficient business’s from operating within the rightful district. Go ahead and cancel Dr. Seuss, but leave this project alone. The earth needs more projects like this one.

    Reply
    • Kim Kinzie

      I find it ironic that your comment is attempting to ridicule someone for having their facts wrong, while at the same time making some irrelevant, ignorant comment about Dr. Seuss being cancelled. Do you think a divisive comment like this is helpful to the dialogue? Also, if you are with the company in question, do you not also think it might be wise to be a bit more empathetic and informative, rather than rude and sarcastic? Please remember that the people opposing this are doing their research and, based on what they’re finding, they’re nervous about the health and safety of their families and community. Can you for one moment put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would feel it it was YOUR family’s health and safety in question?

      If you disagree with the factual statements in this op-ed, perhaps a more constructive response would have been to inform of the errors and provide factual support. Instead, you write some bogus comment about Dr. Seuss, turning this into a culture war. We do not need more divisiveness in this community – we need to work together. Please consider that the next time you feel the need to cut someone down online.

      Reply
  2. Thomas bertrand

    The DEM has said that the Medrecycler is safe. Your fear is based in ignorance.

    Reply
  3. catherine costantino

    One permit has passed. Solid waste permit has not and is pending. We disagree. The joy of America. Be well

    Reply
    • Nah Kablah

      The solid waste permit already has an intent to issue letter following the public comment periods which have already happened.

      Here’s the issue, the scientific data within this article is not applicable to MedRecycler. It produces Syn Gas from which the turbine is powered, the result of which is mostly water emissions, but any other contaminants are scrubbable with wet scrubbers on the stack. This isn’t rocket science, and it is not the same sort of pyrolysis used for plastics or other non-biodegradable materials. You can’t just do a 2 second Google search about pyrolysis and understand how it applies here. Most of the commenting on articles posted on sites like this one or the socials haven’t got a clue that pyrolysis has specific applications. Then again, they also don’t know that the bio waste is not actually combusted, they all think they’re just incinerating it. It is broken down to the molecular level with heat, but there is no flame involved, thus no combustion results. That isn’t how any of this works.

      Notwithstanding that, all of the remaining char type material is likely to be repurposed for something else, like asphalt patch.

      If you read the actual Air permit you would know at least SOME of this. Any time there is a novel technology that could actually do something useful all the Karens in the world come out of the woodwork in opposition to it because they are ignorant about how it actually works.

      Maybe if you actually sourced your valid science someone else could tell you why the reference material you’re looking at doesn’t work here, based on the information contained within this article, which, is again some NIMBY’s opinion.

      Reply
  4. catherine costantino

    @Bob F. Not true, not NIMBY and not lacking knowledge, or valid science. We think your wrong, you think we’re weong. We’ll support our beliefs, and you can support yours. And we’ll let the DEM process this permit and see how everything shakes out. Be well.

    Reply
    • BILL NYe The SCIENCe GUY

      Your lack of knowledge is concerning here Catherine. As well as the science behind it and the air permit issued with the readings. Landfills account for around 15% of greenhouse gasses. It is our responsibility to reduce these greenshouse gasses through technologies like closed loop pyrolsis and thankfully rejoining the paris climate agreement. Your concerns were well documented for months if not over a year? This constant misunderstanding of the science being used here has me more concerned on the education system your community offers through their science department than letting the DEM allowing a company safely handle medical waste. Please review your local hospital guidelines of handling medical waste.

      Reply
      • J. Patlak

        Bill Nye, if you’re gonna bring the science, you need to come correct. Landfills emit methane (potent greenhouse gas) as well as CO2 due to breakdown of organic waste through anaerobic processes. The solution to that is less organics in the trash (ie composting). Plastics, which is a lot of what is being talked about here, don’t really create GHG emissions in landfills, though they do break down and leach into the environment, which is bad. Pyrolysis turns those plastics into syngas for energy production, which absolutely releases significant amounts of CO2. Those numbers are right there in the company permit filings. What is less clear is how good a job the filters will do at capturing other plastic breakdown products from the exhaust stack. In terms of total GHG contribution, this may still come out ahead of burning fracked natural gas, which releases tons of methane during extraction. These plastics have already served their single use purpose and so don’t really have associated “extraction” emissions other than shipping them from the hospital. Either way, this isn’t “green” or “renewable” energy generation. So yeah, science is complicated.

        That said, why are all these comments so darn rude?

        Reply
  5. Jack Byrd

    Katie, the waste has to be disposed of, right? What is your solution? I’m betting you can’t name one that even comes close to being as “green” of a solution as MedRecycler other than shipping it to another state. For your children’s sake, grow up already.

    Reply
  6. Samantha

    I am excited for this facility to get its final permits and open this year. Revenue and jobs is what WWarwick needs. EG is trying to stop WW from getting $4 million in revenue because they’re already wealthy and don’t give a crap about WW townspeople.

    The science says it’s safe and these EG articles are just fear based garbage from science denying wealthy EG housewives. If you live across the street from this operation, you also live across the street from a hugely polluting freeway and boiler manufacturer. So you might want to move. This new facility isn’t even putting out any emissions. Be more concerned with choosing to live by a freeway and using all the chemicals you do on a daily basis. Believe the science, listen to the facts.

    Reply
  7. Dave

    This is 100% “not in my backyard” you’re content with shipping the medical waste elsewhere like a dump to pollute the environment but not in a closed loop groundbreaking new technology that happens to be in your neighboring town and getting that town a ton of tax dollars and jobs all while potentially saving the environment and being the debut of a brand new way to dispose of medical waste for the entire country. as a nurse myself, the disposal of medical waste is essential and also harmful to the environment, this is an amazing new technology that i am ecstatic to see and put my support behind moving forward. i would be more than happy to have this facility down the road from me in arizona in the future

    Reply
    • Fred

      I have been following this story for quite a while now. As having been involved in incineration for the past thirty plus years I was shocked when I saw the initial announcement of the proposed project. Even more shocking was the warm welcome the project seemed to be receiving from uneducated government officials. Your opposition to this project and the factual basis you are laying out as your case for denial is excellent. This company and the proposal would poison the surrounding area and subject you to emissions. Many of the chemicals in the emission are not required to be monitored for and many will be products of incomplete combustion and totally unknown and impossible to monitor. Fight as if your lives depended on this as they do. You are not guinea pigs and should not be subjected to industry latest experiment which they call the latest technology.

      Lastly, the comments posted by individuals speaking in favor of the project seem to have the purpose of discrediting the thousands of people using research and facts opposed to the project. I have seen tactics like this used by the people who are pushing projects in order to further their cause. Tactics like this always backfire in the end. This disposal project is an unproven technology and is impossible to monitor the emissions based on failures of the basic operating systems.

      Keep up the opposition you will stop this “medical waste incinerator”,

      Fred Siegel

      Reply
      • Jack Byrd

        Fred, ” impossible to monitor the emissions” is because there are virtually no emissions to try and monitor so Free Your Mind and the Rest Will Follow.

        Reply
        • Jay

          This is a great opportunity. To have a company with such innovative technology within walking distance of NE Tech is a great gain for both the school and its students. The jobs that this company will bring in during a time where the economy is struggling to rebound is also an added benefit. I look forward to them coming to the neighboring community of West Warwick and welcome them.

          Reply
        • Fred

          There are emissions in this process. In addition, many spills and exposure issues will occur during the transfer and storage of the wastes as well. You can say anything you want to try to convince people this is a green project but it is not even in the running. Misrepresentation all the way. Also if you did your homework you would see that the EPA Capacity report for medical waste disposal is more than adequate and no additional plants are needed. Lastly, net energy production is a farcical claim. Burning mostly toxic plastics and contaminated materials to create energy will create dioxins and other chemicals as well. This is not and never will be a green project except in your mind and any investors you are trying to pull along.

          Reply
          • Jack

            Just because you say it, does not make it so. Post the reputable links please. There have been no reputable links, or any for that matter that disprove the companies claims while there have been many that support their claims. You said, “the EPA Capacity report for medical waste disposal is more than adequate”. That was before China stopped taking our recycling materials and before covid and those waste centers are not green.

  8. Denise

    I’d say many still need to do their research…

    ‘Patented blunderings’, efficiency awareness, and self-sustainability claims in the pyrolysis energy from waste sector

    Author links open overlay panelAndrew Neil Rollinson , Jumoke Mojisola Oladejob

    “Historically, pyrolysis technologies occupied a niche, producing materials with useful chemical functionality from wood, by the continuous application of heat. In the 21st century pyrolysis is promoted as an “advanced” technology for the extraction of heat from municipal refuse, at the same time as claiming “sustainable” and “efficient” credentials. This paper examines the concept of pyrolysis, and the potential for a phenomenon which demands energy to be considered as something which can be engineered to provide energy. Using literature review and case study methods, along with civil permit applications and experimental results, it shows that a pyrolysis plant for self-sustaining Energy from Waste is thermodynamically unproven, practically implausible, and environmentally unsound. A linkage between widespread commercial failures and a lack of focus on thermodynamic fundamentals is also identified, along with an environment of indifference or ignorance towards energy balances and sustainability when these technologies are presented, assessed and financed. Though proposals to build machines which violate physical laws is not new, in a modern context this phenomenon is found to be stimulated by competitive financial rewards. The situation presents a high risk to investors and has the potential to adversely impact on societal transitions to a more sustainable future.”

    Reply
    • J. Patlak

      This is a very interesting paper, and the abstract above doesn’t do it justice. The PDF of the full paper is available with a quick google search. This gets to the fundamental question: Will this plant generate net positive energy balance once all energy requirements are taken into account. Without knowing the actual net energy yield per ton of CO2 released, it is impossible to evaluate and compare this technology against known fossil fuel and renewable power generation technologies.

      Reply
  9. tom

    Pyrolysis is the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective waste treatment technology, which capable to process recyclables, obtain valuable materials and produce electricity.

    Pyrolysis as an environmentally friendly and cost-effective waste
    What are the advantages of pyrolysis?
    The key benefits of pyrolysis include the following:
    It is a simple, inexpensive technology for processing a wide variety of feedstocks.
    It reduces waste going to landfill and greenhouse gas emissions.
    It reduces the risk of water pollution.

    Reply
  10. Fred

    Many of the comments I am reading here sound like they are written by the same people and all those in favor of the facility sound like they are written by company personnel. Rebuttals are sent without even reading the comments they respond to. The EPA capacity report I referenced to Jack is has nothing at all to do with China and recycling waste. You are showing the fact you really do not know anything about the issues you claim and really should not waste people time. The community needs to stop this facility or the town will be subjected to years of hazardous material accidents, emissions and toxic pollution by “industry’s latest experiment” proposed by this company. I am done here.

    Reply

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