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Attorney General Neronha expresses concerns over West Warwick Medrecycler pyrolysis facility

“I have detailed my concerns in a comment letter sent to the Department of Environmental Management and requested that the ongoing approval process be paused until proper analysis and certifications are completed.”



Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha issued the following statement today expressing his Office’s concern over deficiencies in the application process for MedRecycler Rhode Island (MRI)’s proposed medical waste facility in West Warwick:

“The regulatory process required in our state to approve facilities that emit pollutants into our environment has to be robust and complete to protect public health and the environment. In matters like these, involving untested technology, strict adherence to the regulatory scheme’s substantive requirements, and going beyond the minimum public input required, is absolutely critical<” said AG Neronha. “I urge the Department of Environmental Management to closely scrutinize this facility’s application. There is a lot that is unknown about this new technology. We must be satisfied that it is thoroughly tested for its impact on the environment and on the health and safety of facility employees and the general public before it is approved.”

“I have detailed my concerns in a letter sent to the Department of Environmental Management and requested that the ongoing approval process be paused until proper analysis and certifications are completed.”

In his letter to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDOT), AG Neronha expressed three major areas of concern:

  1. The technology has not been thoroughly tested
  2. The application lacks necessary state planning and municipal zoning approvals
  3. The Minor Source Permit should have included public notice and momment and made publicly available
“The regulatory process required to build this first-of-its-kind medical waste facility is intended to be robust due to the inherent health and safety risks involved in processing and disposing of potentially infectious waste, especially when adjacent to residential communities,” writes the Attorney General in his letter. “Further, while the applicant has proffered that pyrolysis involves different technology than traditional incineration, there are still many unknowns. Unmitigated, pyrolysis has the potential to emit many of the same toxic and noxious pollutants that necessitated the phase out of medical waste incinerators nationwide. Accordingly, in order to protect the health and safety of Rhode Island and its citizens, it is imperative that the State’s regulatory review hold MedRecycler RI (MRI)’s application to the most stringent applicable standards. To date, they have not been held to those standards.”

The technology has not been thoroughly tested

“The Medical Waste Regulations expressly provide that certain technologies are allowed under state law to process medical waste – mainly incineration, chemical disinfection, and steam sterilization. However, as pyrolysis is not included in these allowable technologies, the proposed use of a pyrolysis process triggers the ‘Alternative Technologies’ regulatory analysis…
“…These regulations intend to ensure that alternative technologies be proven safe and effective by thorough testing before RIDEM can approve a medical waste facility. Here, the technology has never been utilized or tested for the kind and amount of waste proposed. Instead, the purported destruction efficiencies, emissions, and overall safety of the Facility has been based on modeling and estimations. These are not equivalents of, nor substitutes for, the thorough testing required for Alternative Technologies.

The application lacks necessary state planning and municipal zoning approvals

“Further, the Refuse Disposal statute provides that the application for a Medical Waste Facility permit must be submitted simultaneously with a “certificate of final determination from the municipality in which it is proposed to site the facility that the site conforms with all applicable local land use and control ordinances or on appeal a final judgment of a court that the proposed site for the facility conforms with all applicable land use and control ordinances of the municipality” and a “certificate of approval of the proposed site issued by the state planning council…
“No such municipality nor state planning council certification has been sought, let alone approved, for this proposed Facility. Importantly, had MRI sought these necessary certifications, it would have provided other opportunities for public input and may have impacted the substance of MRI’s application or even the location of the site. The failure to adhere to these requirements, which are intended to ensure adequate oversight and consideration of potential environmental and health impacts, blatantly disregards the Refuse Disposal Act and its implementing Medical Waste Regulations, circumvents key aspects of the public review process, and frustrates review of this application.”

The Minor Source Permit should have included public notice and momment and made publicly available

“Last/Finally, the Attorney General wants to take this opportunity to comment on the minor source air permit issued to MRI by RIDEM on May 7, 2020, recognizing it is outside the scope of the medical waste facility license at issue. While minor source permits do not require public notice and comment, RIDEM has clear discretion to do so if the circumstances so require. However, despite the novelty of the technology, the absence of testing data, and the potential risks the emissions pose to the surrounding communities, RIDEM has unfortunately refrained from exercising that discretion here. The Attorney General encourages RIDEM to, at the very least, make the approved minor source air permit for this facility available on RIDEM’s website, provide the public with more information about the air control technology approved by RIDEM for use by this applicant and explain how and why RIDEM was able to conclude that this technology is adequate and appropriate given the lack of stack testing. The Attorney general also recommends that when reviewing air permit applications for such untested and unproven technologies in the future, RIDEM consider utilizing its discretion to involve the public more dynamically.”

The letter finishes:

“While the unknowns of the proposed Facility should not necessarily preclude a project solely because it is first-of-its-kind, the novelty of this proposal merits close scrutiny and strict adherence to relevant regulations. Further, the public should have been provided ample and meaningful opportunities to comment and question RIDEM’s consideration of the technology at each stage, including the minor source permitting process, to ensure that all of the unknowns are being adequately considered, planned for, and addressed in a manner that satisfies the expressed concerns. This transparency is key to holding the State accountable for how air quality is protected and how potentially infectious waste is managed in our state.
“Accordingly, the Attorney General respectfully requests that RIDEM instruct MRI to resubmit its application for the medical waste facility after it has received the requisite certifications and then proceed to review MRI’s revised application under the Alternative Technologies analysis. Only then, and after thorough testing, should this application be submitted for public comment.”

Articles about the proposed Medrecyler facility:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.