Assembly OKs strong restrictions on new high-heat medical waste incineration facilities


STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation introduced by Rep. Justine A. Caldwell and Sen. Bridget G. Valverde to prohibit new medical waste incinerators near residential neighborhoods, schools, nursing facilities and delicate environmental areas.

The bill, which is headed to the governor, would address the proposed facility on the West Warwick-East Greenwich border that would accept 70 tons of medical waste daily from across New England and burn it at extreme temperatures through a process called “pyrolysis,” which turns the waste into energy, along with oil and tar byproducts. The MedRecycler-RI Inc facility would be located at 1600 Division Road, West Warwick, behind a child care center, near residential neighborhoods and other businesses, and across the street from New England Institute of Technology. If it were to be built, the facility would be the only medical waste pyrolysis facility in the world.

The legislation (2021-H 5923Aaa, 2021-S 0527) is also aimed at protecting homes, businesses, schools and vulnerable environmental areas all over the state, none of which should be exposed to the potential dangers of medical waste incineration.

“We’re not saying ‘not in my backyard.’ We’re saying this shouldn’t be in anyone’s backyard. Our community has spent a lot of time and money litigating this issue and our neighbors have been put through months of worry about the pollution and risks that might be coming their way. We don’t want other communities to have to go through the same thing,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown, Narragansett).  “Out-of-state developers are not going to use our state to make a buck by bringing medical waste into our neighborhoods, burning it at high temperatures and releasing pollution into our environment.”

Said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), “This facility shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, but especially not anywhere near where people live, where children spend their days, or near our water or other environmental resources. Our legislation ensures that it isn’t, and that Rhode Island doesn’t become a destination for other people’s trash. Importing dangerous medical waste from out of state and burning it at high temperatures has obvious risks and it undermines our efforts to stop air pollution. No one should have to fight a proposal like this in 2021.”

The bill had overwhelming public support at its hearings.

The MedRecycler-RI proposal has not yet been approved by the Department of Environmental Management. The proposed facility drew hours of testimony opposing it during a DEM hearing on its solid waste facility license application, including many community members from East Greenwich and West Warwick, abutting businesses, environmental advocates and elected officials. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha has called for the approval process to be suspended until the developer proves the technology is safe for the environmental and public health.

The legislation prohibits the approval of licenses for any high-heat medical processing facility located within 2,000 feet of water, open space, parks, floodplains, flood hazard areas; or within one mile of pre-existing public or private schools, colleges, child care facilities, assisted living facilities, nursing facilities or areas zoned for residential use; or within any municipality designated in whole or in part as an environmental justice municipality.



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