Town Appeals Permit for West Warwick Medical Waste Plant

by | Jun 11, 2020

Officials say MedRecycleRI provided insufficient data to DEM for an air pollution permit

By Hope McKinney

The town has filed duel appeals of an air pollution permit issued by the Department of Environmental Management for a medical recycling facility attempting to open up shop in West Warwick just over the East Greenwich line. 

The Town Council approved the action during an executive session May 26, following interactions with lawyer Michael Kelly representing MedRecycler-RI, Inc., including a phone call between Kelly and Town Solicitor Andy Teitz in which Teitz said Kelly threatened to sue the town.

The town filed an administrative appeal with DEM and also filed an administrative appeal with R.I. Superior Court as a precautionary measure, Teitz explained during the Town Council meeting Monday night. (If the DEM appeal fails, they will move forward with the court appeal.) New England Institute of Technology, whose EG campus on Division Road is across the street from the proposed facility, joined the town as a co-appellate in the Superior Court filing.  

DEM approved a “minor source” air permit for MedRecycler-RI May 7, during a hearing in which public comment was not allowed. The permit allows MRI to install and use two pyrolysis systems that would use medical waste as material to fuel the process. The process of pyrolysis is complicated; Tim Faulkner at EcoRI explains it like this: it uses intense heat to transform waste into several byproducts that can serve as a fuel to generate electricity (read his story HERE). Teitz said the company has not said exactly what kind of medical waste it plans to recycle.

The project applicant, Nicholas Campanella of New Jersey, was supposed to attend a virtual Town Council meeting May 26 to explain his plans. But just hours before that meeting, Kelly called Teitz to say Campanella would not be appearing and issued his threat to sue the town. 

According to the appeals, MRI failed to submit specific information, instead offering general calculations of potential emissions to demonstrate that the emissions would be low enough to qualify as a minor source. 

“MRI only submitted emission calculations based on general assumptions about the waste stream based on limited articles provided by MRI, and without any hard data on what the actual composition of what the waste stream will be,” the appeals stated. 

 In other words, East Greenwich is arguing DEM should not have approved the air permit without more information about what exactly was going to be processed. 

The appeals also say MRI was also unable to provide DEM with an example of another facility utilizing their technology to process medical waste.  

Meanwhile, also Monday night,  the West Warwick Planning Department voted to hire an independent consultant to review MRI’s permit application, at the expense of the developer. 

We just want a reasonable amount of assurance through an independent third party that the information we’re receiving is accurate,” Town Planner Mark Carruolo said in an interview after the meeting.

MRI lawyer Kelly told the West Warwick Planning Board his client had already provided a report done by an independent third party. He said MRI had also forwarded information to the town of East Greenwich, “setting forth the actual facts surrounding this application,” he said. “There’s been a lot of false information being generated. I don’t know why but there is, particularly in regard to emissions and those types of things.” 

Eric Falk is a tenant in the building planned to also be used by MRI at 1600 Division Road. During the meeting, he expressed his concerns about the lack of knowledge surrounding the facility. 

“I have 70 employees which I would probably move as soon as possible out of West Warwick unless I could be 100 percent sure, too,” he said. “We haven’t really been told anything about it as tenants in the building. How do they know it’s safe?” 

“I think your statement that you think it’s unsafe without knowing the information is a little irresponsible at this point,” Kelly responded. “The way that this is set up, it’s extremely safe. I can’t see how it could possibly cause any safety issue with you or your employees.” 

Kelly said that he would be happy to provide Falk with more information about the proposed facility. According to Kelly, the types of emissions produced by the facility would be similar to two cars running 11,000 miles a month for a year, noting that these emissions are not significant. 

“It’s all self-contained in the building,” he said, adding, “There’s no emission of waste water.”

He said the project would generate 40 to 50 permanent jobs and 17 to 20 construction jobs. 

Planner Carruolo told the West Warwick Planning Board he had met with DEM. At that point, DEM said they had been trying to find another company in the U.S. using a pyrolysis-type system. They found a company in Minnesota and another in Michigan that used a pyrolysis system but not for medical waste. DEM said there had been one licensed in Florida to process medical waste but it closed down very quickly after it opened and DEM didn’t know why. This proposed facility would likely be the first in the country then to use this type of technology with medical waste, if approved. 

MRI still has several steps it must complete before it could begin operations. On the state level, it must obtain a license from the DEM’s Office of Land Revitalization and Sustainable Management for a medical waste treatment facility. It also needs a major source permit for solid waste, which would include a public hearing and allow for public comment.

On the municipal level, MRI currently has master plan approval from the West Warwick Planning Board. If and when MRI gets its DEM approvals, they would then return to the W.W. Planning Board for preliminary plan approval. It is at that stage that abutters within a 200-foot radius (that would include the Town of East Greenwich) would be officially notified. East Greenwich has a particular interest in the project because that section of West Warwick is only accessible via EG roads, specifically Division Road.

EG Town Councilor Renu Englehart, who lives on Division Road, has been researching this proposal for months. 

“The biggest issue I have with the MedRecycler project is that for medical waste, the process that they are proposing is untested,” she said via email. “There is no way for RIDEM nor for the town of West Warwick to be able to verify the claims of the developer. Further, the entirety of the project, with the exception of the building address (and this includes the driveway access to the building), is located in East Greenwich. The trucks will use EG roads and pass by EG homes and businesses and absolutely none of the burden will be on the town of West Warwick.”


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5 Comments

  1. Camille Speca

    EG News – thank you so much for this information. I would never know all of this was happening if it were not for you reporting it all.

    “Use medical waste as material to fuel the process” – that description just doesn’t sound like it could ever be non-toxic.

    Reply
  2. Vicky Mann

    Very interesting and informative article especially in light of the current pandemic! Are there any state or federal regulations regarding recycling medical waste (eg. CDC, OSHA, FDA, etc)? Is there a possibility the MWTA ending in 1991 could be reenacted?

    Reply
  3. Lillian Picchione

    Thank you for this reporting.

    Reply
    • Thomas Bertrand

      I think all involved should wait for the 2nd Independent analysis (3rd if you count DEM) before threats of lawsuits start flying around. This is an exciting green project. All should have an open mind and trust the reports- especially if all the findings are similar.

      Reply

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