Opponents continue push against medical waste disposal operation

Posted 3/18/21

By JOHN HOWELL For nearly four hours Monday, area residents told the Department of Environmental Management they won't want, nor do they think Rhode Island should be the "guinea pig" for, a medical waste disposal operation that its proponents say is

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Opponents continue push against medical waste disposal operation


For nearly four hours Monday, area residents told the Department of Environmental Management they won’t want, nor do they think Rhode Island should be the “guinea pig” for, a medical waste disposal operation that its proponents say is safe, will prolong the life of the landfill and generate electricity.

MedRecycler-RI of Manalapan, New Jersey, is seeking to operate a facility at 1600 Division Road in West Warwick that uses pyrolysis, a system akin to incineration but without using oxygen. It would have the ability to render 70 tons of medical waste into ash and gases daily.

The operation, where equipment is being assembled on the expectation of approval, would occupy 48,167 square feet (more than an acre) of a 549,607-square-foot industrial building abutting Interstate 95 to the north and the New England Institute of Technology and residences in East Greenwich to the south.

Nicholas Campanella, CEO of MedRecycler-RI, said in an interview prior to the hearing that the company has already entered into a 20-year lease for the site and installed six turbines capable of producing 1.4 megawatts daily. The turbines would be powered by syngas, a byproduct of pyrolysis.

Campanella termed the operation a “small facility” that would be tested and monitored. Over the life of the lease, he projected MedRecycler-RI would pay West Warwick $4 million in taxes. He also said it would produce 30 to 40 jobs and provide a needed service to the Rhode Island medical community.

Those benefits were not enough to convince the scores of people participating in Monday’s hearing, who cited fears over the health and environmental impacts of the operation and called on DEM to fulfill its role as a steward of Rhode Island.

“What kind of world do we want to leave our children?” asked Mary Madden, an East Greenwich resident and retired teacher. Madden said even though pyrolysis can break down compounds, it will leave mercury, lead, arsenic and other proven carcinogenic elements.

Wendy Greene, who lives on the Warwick/East Greenwich line, said Techotherm operates three pyrolysis plants – two in South Africa and a third in Britain – but none are used for the disposal of medical waste. She also questioned the advisability of storing medical waste on the site for up to two weeks.

Campanella questioned those statements Tuesday. He said pyrolysis is being used in California and New Mexico but was vague on whether those sites were used to dispose of medical waste.

“The more I’ve learned, the more concerned I am,” said Denise Lopez, one of those who have organized opposition to the proposal. Also organizing opposition is Katherine Silberman, who said that as of Monday they had collected 1,484 signatures in opposition to the license. As was experienced by this reporter, she also noted that the 300-attendance limit to the Zoom hearing was quickly met and people were shut out. Ninety minutes after it started, this reporter was able to join the meeting.

Nicki Armstrong questioned the economic viability of the company, noting that its annual report shows a $2 million debt, doesn’t have a track record of making money yet is looking to borrow $17.2 million in state bonds. She likened the “razzle dazzle” of the technology and prospect of reducing the carbon footprint of landfill disposal to the unmet promises of 38 Studios, suggesting the taxpayers would get left holding the bill.

On Tuesday, Campanella said the company would use “tax free and taxable bonds” amounting to $10 million to finance the project. He said private equity, not the taxpayers, would hold the bonds.

Andrew Kaplan said that customarily, new technologies go through beta testing, but in this case this is version 1.0. He said pyrolysis is not being used in this country and there is no knowing what might be the adverse effects.

“I get the impression the blind are leading the blind,” he said.

The proposal advanced in 2019 has gained master plan approval from West Warwick. Last November, DEM granted an air quality permit, and in January of this year it issued a notice of intent to approve an operating permit.

The town of East Greenwich and the New England Institute of Technology appealed issuance of the air quality permit in Superior Court. At the direction of the court, the parties, including West Warwick, are in mediation.

West Warwick Town Planner Mark Carruolo said in an interview Monday that zoning of the site allows for the use. The next step in the process, he explained, is preliminary plan approval, which requires specifics of the project and required state permits. Final plan approval would be required before MedRecycler-RI could start operating.

Assuming those approvals are granted and there is an arbitrated agreement, Campanella said the facility could be operational in two to three months. He put the cost of the operation at $20 million.

Campanella was asked about the 70 tons of medical waste that, according to the MedRecyler-RI application, would be shredded before incineration. He said it would come from Rhode Island and out of state. He could not say what proportion of the waste would be generated by Rhode Island medical facilities, but that it would be a majority. During the hearing, one of the opponents observed that the state landfill does not accept out-of-state waste, so in effect the state would be opening it borders to out of state medical waste.

Lopez was pleased by the turnout Monday, although disappointed that DEM did not heed the group’s warning that the 300 limit for Zoom attendees would close out untold numbers.

“This is just the beginning,” she said. “It validates the efforts to make this more public.” She said the MedRecycler-RI proposal “came in under the radar.”

Campanella counters claims the plan is being rushed through. He notes it has been the subject of DEM review since 2019.

medical waste, disposal, West Warwick


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