To the Editor:
It’s amazing what one can learn from social media as I recently discovered relative to a proposed medical waste to energy project for West Warwick. I am usually not a fan as we often encounter “news” that is little more than unsubstantiated rumor, but one particular post piqued my interest, so I decided to conduct a bit more research. What I found troubled me, and I believe that the citizens of West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick and East Greenwich might also want to look into this proposal.
The post cited an article by Tim Faulkner in ecoRI News entitled “Proposed West Warwick Medical-Waste Processing Plant Would Serve New England.” It noted that an office building at 1600 Division Road in West Warwick may host a medical waste processing plant.
What jumped out at me was the following: “A relatively untested technology that cooks medical waste to generate electricity is proposed for a local office and warehouse building.
MedRecycler-RI Inc., a subsidiary of New Jersey-based Sun Pacific Holdings, is touting a system that uses extreme heat to disintegrate medical waste, including blood and prescription drugs, as “strictly green and clean.”
The proposed facility plans to process some 70 tons of medical waste from hospitals, laboratories and doctors offices from across New England, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Although I was somewhat taken aback at the wording, e.g. “relatively untested technology,” perhaps we would learn more via the public hearings that usually go hand in hand with such proposals and any worries would be put to rest via the normal planning and approval process.
But I did wonder why West Warwick taxpayers seemed to be in the dark relative to this project? Why isn’t this proposal front and center on the council’s agenda? Why no press releases on the part of the council as they are usually so fond of promoting new ventures for the town? Can’t we trust them to ensure an open, transparent process?
Mr. Faulkner’s article went on to note, “The shipments of medical waste won’t be opened when they arrive by tractor trailer, but they are inspected for radioactive content before they are shredded and exposed to intense heat. The thermal decomposition process, known as pyrolysis, converts the waste to an oil and tar byproduct and a synthesis gas [syngas] that is used as fuel to create electricity. Pyrolysis is common in the chemical industry to produce fossil-fuel byproducts, but there are few examples of its commercial use to process waste.”
If the council were to approve this venture, surely we could trust that they would ensure that the approval was carried out with regard to due diligence and we could trust their judgment.
Then I went a bit deeper and came across this press release in May 2019 that noted that MedRecycler-RI, Inc had:
l Identified, negotiated and executed a 10-year lease with 10-year option on an approximately 48,000 square foot facility for the Medical Waste to Energy project in West Warwick.
l Applied for and received Township of West Warwick approvals to commence office buildout in the Medical Waste to Energy facility.
Whoa! Really? Who approved this? When were the public hearings held? The ecoRI story also noted: “A public hearing and public comment period for the project is expected. Public input will focus on the location of the facility, not the technology itself.” So, what are we to believe, the company’s PR from May 2019 or the February ecoRI 2020 article?
Of note, the RI DEM is involved, and DEM is trying to decide how the testing will be performed without installing the pyrosis system.
“I don’t know of any [pyrolysis system] like this. That’s what makes it challenging,” said Mark Denning, DEM’s supervising environmental scientist.”
Further: “The medical refuse arrives by truck from independent shippers in cardboard boxes and plastic containers. Up to 25 trucks containing medical waste will be stored onsite for up to two weeks...
Many of the project’s details weren’t discussed at a May 6, 2019 hearing before the Planning Board (the application starts at 1:09 mark)…(which) focused on the cleanliness and green elements of the process.
I would suggest that concerned citizens review the ecoRI article as well as the video of the May 6 West Warwick Planning Board meeting as there are many issues which taxpayers might want to be aware of, e.g.:
“At last year’s Planning Board meeting a few abutters to the facility from East Greenwich expressed concern about increased truck traffic and air pollution.”
It was, “noted that between three and five trucks would make deliveries daily. The application submitted to the state said 10 trucks would make deliveries daily. According to the application, both the facility and the trailers parked there may emit offensive odors but that efforts would be taken to preempt and eliminate them, such as sending offensive trailers back to their source.”
The New England Institute of Technology, which is an abutter, told the Planning Board that the operation was difficult to understand. “We have 400 kids living on campus…We have to make sure the environment is safe.”
The attorney for the venture has stated, “They are not going to do anything that’s going to expose them or anyone else to any kind of harm.”
“Despite claims of low health risks, local environmentalists have aggressively fought waste-to-energy facilities, such as incinerators or gasification plants. In 2018, a large coalition of opponents defeated a biomass incinerator proposed for Johnston. Last year, they killed a bill that would have allowed the state to build a gasification plant in Johnston.”
“Attorney Shekarchi, the House Majority Leader and next in line as Speaker of the House, raised eyebrows when he mentioned his support for medical waste-to-energy facilities during a legislative press event held last month [Jan. 2020] by the Environment Council of Rhode Island at the State House.”
“The Conservation Law Foundation [CLF] has noted that emissions from pyrolysis contain cancer-causing compounds. The ash consists of dioxins, mercury, and heavy metals – pollutants that can make their way into waterways and drinking water supplies. The applications submitted to DEM says the facility will emit or have as byproducts carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, silicon dioxide, magnesium oxide, iron oxide, sodium chloride and sodium sulfide.
The West Warwick Planning Board approved the MedRecycler-RI project on May 15, 2019, which under town zoning regulations qualified as a “green, renewable or alternative energy installations and facilities.” If and when the DEM permits are issued, the application would then go before the planning board for a preliminary review with public hearing.”
My question is this: “When is the West Warwick Town Council going to enlighten the taxpayers of our town as well as the town/city councils of Coventry, Warwick and East Greenwich?
I strongly urge the citizens of our communities to become engaged relative to this project but from my perspective and the players involved, it appears as though the train has already left the station. We get the government we deserve!
Alan G. Palazzo
CDR USN (Ret)