BALTIMORE – Proposed regulations of Maryland waste incinerators are a good first step, but they are not stringent enough, according to a report released Thursday by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
Incinerators will be allowed to release toxins at too high a level, won’t be inspected often enough and will not be required to reduce or recycle waste, according to the report.
Next Tuesday, the Maryland Department of the Environment will hold a public hearing to decide whether it will adopt the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for medical waste incinerators or tougher standards. Medical waste incinerators in Maryland burn more than 42,000 tons of waste each year, according the report.
Hospitals contacted had no comment about the pending regulations. Dawn Lyons, a spokeswoman for Franklin Square Hospital said its incinerator will meet any new regulations. That incinerator burns about 1.6 million pounds of waste a year, according to the report.
The EPA’s standards would limit dioxin and mercury emissions, but they would still allow four times as much mercury as states like Florida and New York allow, said Lea Johnston, deputy director of MaryPIRG.
Only 10 of the 41 hospital-waste incinerators in Maryland have air pollution control devices, according to the report. Nearly a third of Maryland’s incinerators are in Baltimore alone, said Johnston.
When burned, used medical instruments such as thermometers, release mercury, and plastic waste such as disposable cups, syringes and intravenous bags discharge dioxin, according to industry experts. Medical waste incinerators in Maryland release 968 pounds of mercury and up to 447 grams of dioxin each year, according to the report.
Even trace amounts of these toxins are extremely dangerous, and can contribute to cause birth defects and other serious health problems said Dr. Richard Humphrey, of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Under the EPA’s guidelines, incinerators will be tested once a year, too infrequently, critics charge. Plus, those tests will be performed under “artificial conditions,” rather than under a regular daily load, charged one critic, Chris Bedford, chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.
“It’s like cleaning up for your mother-in-law’s visit,” he said.
Charlotte Brody, coordinator of the coalition Health Care Without Harm agreed: “Cleaning house once a year is not enough. We breathe every day.”
Hospitals should be encouraged to use alternatives to mercury and plastics as well as to recycle waste, she said.
“It’s the common sense approach, don’t put it in and you won’t have to deal with it,” she said.
MDE will hold a public hearing Tuesday for comments on the proposed regulations, said Ann Marie DeBiase, director of MDE’s Air and Radiation Management.