County rejects medical waste plant

November 19, 1997

County rejects medical waste plant


Staff Writer

Plans for a medical waste treatment plant that would have sterilized 75 tons a day of infectious body parts, used syringes and other materials went up in smoke Tuesday after the Washington County Commissioners reversed themselves and voted to withdraw their support.

About 60 county residents packed a 10 a.m. public hearing to speak against the plan, with some suggesting the commissioners were "insane" for supporting the plant.

The commissioners had agreed to sell six acres in the Washington County Business Park near the Interstate 81/U.S. 40 interchange to Tempico Mid-Atlantic LLC of Virginia Beach, Va.


Residents weren't satisfied by Tempico's claims of safety and said importing medical waste was a dumb idea.

"I am opposed to this...and urge you to reject it this morning," said former state delegate Paul Muldowney.

Muldowney said Washington County's image would suffer a blow if it became known as the place to bring hazardous medical waste.

The commissioners said they got the message.

"If you don't listen to your people in your community you've got a serious problem," said Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, who made the motion to deny Tempico permission to operate in the county.

Commissioner John S. Shank said the commissioners as elected officials have to do what the people want, despite the company's claims about the safety of a proposed $4 million plant and the 25 to 50 jobs it would provide.

"If the people of this community don't want it, it's their decision," Shank said.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey voted against Bowers' motion. He said the proposal should have gone to the Planning Commission first for a public hearing and a recommendation. Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook voted against the plant, and Commissioner James R. Wade was absent.

Seymour Stern, a lawyer for Tempico from Frederick, Md., blamed the decision on newspaper coverage that he said emphasized people's fears, not facts. Stern said Tempico wasn't given an opportunity to fully present its side of the story.

W. Doyle Payne Jr., part-owner of Tempico Mid-Atlantic, said his patented Rotoclave sterilization system, which would sanitize the waste, is "fail-safe" with a "100 percent kill ratio" for germs.

Payne said none of the more than 30 Rotoclave systems built since 1990 have had a malfunction.

Stern showed a sales video promoting the Rotoclave as a safe technology that transforms medical waste into an unrecognizable, sterile fluff without any air emissions. The plan was to truck the fluff to a Lorton, Va., incinerator where it would have been burned to create electricity.

The sales video quotes a hospital administrator as saying having the machine on-site at a hospital eliminates the hospital's liability for off-site mishaps.

Residents said they were concerned about the possibility of an accident if 25 trucks a day were hauling waste to the plant, and said they were worried that workers at the plant could be contaminated by the waste before it was treated.

"Bringing a hazardous waste site into the county is just insanity," said Jack Berkson.

"There is no such thing as a fail-safe system," Berkson said.

Muldowney said the commissioners should be outraged by the wording of an application by the company for a special zoning exception for "manufacturing of alternative boiler fuel from previously processed materials."

That application was withdrawn and resubmitted after County Attorney Richard Douglas said it was misleading because it didn't mention medical waste.

Stern said not including medical waste in the application wording was an honest mistake made when the application was submitted at the last minute.

Some of those at the meeting expressed concern about the company's background and wanted to know if anyone had checked its past history.

Payne was asked why he initially tried to put his plant in Howard and Frederick counties.

"I didn't pick the right piece of property the last time. It was too close to a residential neighborhood," Payne said.

The property on Western Maryland Parkway near a Coca-Cola bottling operation and the Washington County Detention Center isn't near a residential neighborhood, Payne said.

"If this stuff is so safe why are you worried about houses being nearby?" asked Funkstown resident Jack Wetzel.

Dr. Robyn Gershon, senior researcher associate at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and a Tempico consultant, said the medical waste was contained in thick plastic bags or barrels and said truck drivers were trained in how to contain spills in case of an accident.

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