Plans to burn medical waste in Connecticut are being met with opposition from residents who say it would create hazardous fumes – Yahoo News

Fearing that operations could start as soon as early this year, opponents of Covanta’s plan to burn medical waste at its Bristol incinerator are pressing the city council this week to intervene.

Homeowners who’ve banded together as Bristol Residents for Clean Air put out an email to local homes Monday urging people to speak up when the council convenes Tuesday evening.

“Without your assistance, we are in certain danger of losing a well-fought, clean air initiative for the city of Bristol,” wrote Jodie Bechard, chief organizer of the Covanta opposition.

Opponents spent much of last year trying to stop Covanta from burning up to 57 tons of medical waste a day at its Bristol trash incinerator. They argue that mixing waste from southern New England hospitals and medical clinics into the main trash-to-energy stream at the plant could create hazardous fumes.

“Tell council members that it is not OK to breathe in medical waste toxins,” the group wrote on its Facebook page Monday . “If tobacco and marijuana smoke is prohibited in public areas of town, mercury, lead, PFAS and dioxins should be too.”

The group last week called on the city council’s ordinance committee to quickly adopt new air pollution ordinances in hopes that would block the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection from granting Covanta a permit modification – or better regulate the operation if it’s approved.

“The state has a goal from an executive order of Gov. Lamont to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030,” resident David Rackliffe told the council in a December presentation. “Approving this permit is not consistent with that initiative, and yet we believe that DEEP will grant his amendment to the current burning permit, and biomedical waste will be burned when plant modifications are completed.”

Rackliffe and other opponents called on the council to adopt clean air ordinances that would require frequent monitoring of emissions from Covanta’s smokestack. He noted that state regulations allow towns to establish local clean air standards – but acknowledged that they would have power only if the were approved by DEEP.

Mayor Jeff Caggiano so far has not publicly committed to a stance other than to say that he and the council will ensure air quality in the city.

“Covanta has been burning trash safely in Bristol for 34 years,” he said Monday. “It is the goal of my administration to make sure that trash-to-energy operations continue in a safe manner.”

Covanta currently has a permit to burn more than 700 tons of trash daily that’s collected from dozens of Connecticut towns. The company wants to use up to 8 percent of that capacity for medical waste, a vastly more profitable part of the trash incineration industry.

Some of the items that would be burned include used bandages, needles, IV bags, vials, patient bedding and gowns as well as tissue samples from biopsies and organs from surgical procedures.

Covanta has stipulated that it would not burn cadavers, fetuses, large animal carcasses, pharmaceutical waste categorized as hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency, bulk chemotherapy waste or similar items.

Opponents want to block the medical waste burning from happening or at least get a mandate for frequent, complex emissions monitoring.

The company counters that its similar facilities in Oregon and Alabama have all operated for years without exceeding the caps on emissions set by state permit.

“There has been no discernable effect on emissions,” the company said. “In fact, stack testing at these facilities, conducted while combusting biomedical waste, has demonstrated that the emissions have continued to be much lower than the permit limits.”

The opponents will ask the council Tuesday night to authorize hiring a consultant to help draft local clean air ordinances. They are recommending Mike Ewall, director of the Energy Justice Network.

Caggiano and the six council members are all Republicans serving first terms since November. Opponents largely supported the GOP ticket after blaming then-Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu and the all-Democratic council for not better informing taxpayers that Covanta had been pursuing plans since 2018.

“Remind your council representative that they were elected to do something different than the previous administration,” the group said on its Facebook page Monday in a call for a citywide email campaign to the council.

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