PLYMOUTH – An open forum was held at the Plymouth Town Hall Tuesday to discuss proposed changes to incinerate biomedical waste at the Covanta Bristol Resource Recovery Center.
State Sen. Henri Martin, representing the 31st District, invited members of the public, Plymouth municipal government, Bristol municipal government, Covanta representatives as well as state environmental regulatory officials to attend the meeting. Of those who were introduced were Plymouth municipal representatives as well as a Covanta executive. The Bristol mayor was unable to attend due to another meeting obligation. No representatives from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spoke.
Covanta Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President Dr. Paul Gilman was on hand to answer questions from those in attendance.
When asked how Covanta knew that emissions from a biomedical waste burning facility were similar to those from a municipal waste burning facility, Gilman said that such had been observed at other facilities.
“Yes, the data we provided in the application to the state comparing before and after (biomedical waste incineration) for the Lake (County) facility that operates in Florida, by way of example,” said Gilman.
Gilman said other Covanta facilities in the U.S. that incinerate biomedical waste include one in Huntsville, Ala., and another in Marion County, Ore. According to the Covanta application to amend its solid waste permit, the previously mentioned facilities follow the same maintenance, training and safety protocols.
The vice president said that no other such actions had been made to introduce biomedical waste incineration in Connecticut at this time by Covanta and that the Bristol facility was better prepared to introduce such a change than others.
Covanta applied for an industrial waste permit change in March 2021 to allow for biomedical waste burning, said Connecticut DEEP representatives in a previous email exchange.
According to officials, the permit application has capped the amount of (biomedical waste) that can be received to a maximum daily average of 57 tons over the course of 365 days. This is a maximum of 8% of the total annual processed tons, which would be a maximum of 20,805 tons of (biomedical waste) out of 261,340 tons of total waste processed per year.
Discussion revealed that the 57 tons is averaged weekly and that should it be necessary to maintain processing levels, Covanta can at times burn more than 57 tons on a given day.
Gilman said that no radioactive material can be accepted at the Bristol facility, should the permit change be approved and that hazardous materials as defined by state standards are also not accepted at the site. The executive also added he felt that emissions already coming from the site were considerably below state limits.
Area resident Dave Rackliffe questioned if certain types of emissions should not be tested more often and whether a larger variety of gases should also be measured. He also had concerns about the potential for more than 57 tons of waste to be incinerated per day.
The Bristol Covanta site already incinerates area municipal waste. Should the permit change be approved by DEEP, it could allow for biomedical waste to be combusted from several states outside of Connecticut as well. Covanta wishes to utilize the Bristol location because it feels the facility is in a good geographic location and has an efficient capability to handle the biomedical waste. Not every state has a biomedical waste process facility, said Gilman, and it’s a service certain institutions require.
Because of state code, certain types of biomedical waste are only allowed to be eliminated by incineration. Those types of waste are considered chemotherapy waste and pathological wastes, which are considered things like human tissue and organs. Items that may be incinerated or, according to the Covanta permit application process, discharged “to a sanitary sewer, treatment by steam sterilization or other alternative treatment technology” include body fluids, items dripping from body fluids, discarded sharps and biomedical waste generated from research.
Covanta has said items like gauze, gowns and dressing, needles, scalpels, syringes, vaccines, residual vaccines, blood products, vials, pathological waste such as tissue samples and non-hazardous pharmaceuticals like IV bags, catheters, tubing and residual medications. Also potentially accepted would be “trace chemotherapy” waste such as gloves, curtains and personal protective equipment with less than “three percent contamination” could be disposed of at its facility. There is also the possibility of animal waste and remains being incinerated there as well.
Unacceptable waste at the facility would include anything considered hazardous pharmaceutical waste by the US EPA, human fetal tissue, human remains, large amounts of free-flowing liquids, radioactive material, bulk pathological waste, bulk chemotherapeutic waste and preservative agents like formaldehyde and iodine.
There was some discussion during the meeting inferring that what the public may consider hazardous material may differ from what legally is considered hazardous waste. Gilman said that Covanta is constantly in contact with Connecticut DEEP and DEEP often does its own record auditing and tests.
Some individuals at the meeting questioned the long-term exposure of area residents to such emissions. Gilman said studies utilized by Covanta in its research did not see long-term issues to residents around such facilities.
Others questioned recent problems with other Covanta facilities they had read in the news. Gilman responded that a Wallingford Covanta facility had closed due to no longer being a financially viable venture. Recent OSHA violations that had been reported at the Bristol facility Gilman said were largely attributable to electrical system modifications that needed to be reconfigured as they had not been completed to OSHA requirements.
As the meeting ended, Martin said he anticipated further meetings in the greater Bristol area to discuss the permit modification application further in the coming year.
State DEEP representatives said that the application is still in “technical review” and a public commenting period will be opened as part of its reviewing processes.