Medical waste treatment facility appeals DEM permit denial

Warwick Beacon ·

Arguing that it complied fully with requested information and that legislation signed into law on July 9 contained no retroactive provisions, MedRecycler has appealed a Department of Environmental Management denial of a license to operate a medical waste treatment facility in West Warwick across Division Street from New England Institute of Technology and a nearby daycare facility.

The appeal was filed with the DEM’s administrative adjudication division.

East Greenwich resident Denise Lopez, who has closely followed the MedRecyler application and rallied opposition was uncertain Monday as to the next step in the fight to stop the operation.

“It’s all hands on deck. We’re waiting to hear more,” she said. She followed up with an email in which she wrote, “RIDEM provided 978 pages of a response to public comment. The denial was fully justified. We will continue to be vigilant and monitor the situation.”

The highly controversial facility — equipment has been shipped to the site, but is not operational — located within an industrial building at 1600 Division St. was designed to process 70 tons of medical waste daily through pyrolysis.

That process that MedRecyler claims has been successfully used to dispose of medical waste superheats material in the absence of oxygen causing it to become gaseous. The gases are then burned to produce electricity.

MRI filed its original application in February 2019 and was granted a minor source air permit by DEM on May 7, 2020. On Dec. 2, 2020, DEM issued a notice of intent to approve MRI’s final application for a permit.

That action coalesced opposition to the operation that had been closely following and challenging the plant. Petitions in opposition to the facility were widely circulated and DEM received more than 600 written comments about the operation before cutting off comments 90 days prior to denying the permit on July 13.

The action came only days after passage of legislation introduced by East Greenwich Rep. Justine Caldwell regulating the disposal of waste by pyrolysis that effectively rendered it impossible for MRI to operate from its Division Street location. The bill makes it illegal for a high-heat medical waste disposal plant to operate within 2,000 feet of a school, residential areas, parks, open space and waters.

MRI argues the law has no retroactive language and that “the law in effect at the time of the public hearing was the operative law that should have been applied to RIDEM’s review of the final application.”

Based on that argument Michael Kelly, attorney for MRI requests that the administrative adjudication division asks for further review and an “express order that the legislation is not to be considered and that the final application must be reviewed under the law in effect at the time that the final application was filed.”

Lopez reasons the MedRecyler application was lacking, even though Kelly says the company meet DEM requests, because they did not provide testing protocols for their operation.

“How can you say a process is safe if you don’t know how it will be tested,” she asks.  Michael Healey, DEM chief public affairs officer, said in an email that the ADD has scheduled a “status conference” for Sept. 8.

Asked what could be the outcome of the conference, Healey replied, “the AAD only has jurisdiction to consider the technical aspects of DEM’s denial. AAD does not have jurisdiction over the constitutionality or applicability of the statute prohibiting new high-heat medical waste processing facilities from being sited in Rhode Island; Superior Court does. A party facing an adverse ruling by the AAD would likely appeal it to Superior Court.”

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