Energy

Proposed West Warwick Medical-Waste Processing Plant Would Serve New England

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The building at 1600 Division Road in West Warwick, R.I., has been proposed to host a medical-waste processing plant. (Brookwood Financial Partners)

WEST WARWICK, R.I. — 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 at 1600 Division Road 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.

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.

Nicholas Campanella, CEO of MedRecycler-RI, claims that the equipment releases little to no emissions and works as a closed-loop “green” system.

“It stays within the system and cleans everything,” Campanella recently told ecoRI News.

Along with the oil and tar, the apparatus produces steam, a glass-like slag, and an ash that can be landfilled or used in the production of cement. The building will have a vent stack for ancillary emissions, thereby requiring an air pollution permit from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

The facility expects to process a significant amount of plastics and other inorganic compounds, so DEM is requiring testing of the equipment to determine the volume and type of byproducts and to make sure all bacteria is destroyed. 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.

A public hearing and public comment period for the proposed project is expected. Public input will focus on the location of the facility, not the technology itself.

If approved as a medical-waste processor by DEM and the state Department of Health, the pyrolysis system would be allowed to accept anatomical waste, animal waste, contaminated animal carcasses, body parts and bedding, cultures and stocks, human blood and blood products, pathological waste, prescription drugs, spill cleanup material mixtures, and syringes and other medical “sharps.” It also may receive isolation waste, which is the material generated by patients that are isolated to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

However, Campanella said he will not take in anatomical waste, animal waste, hazardous waste, isolation waste, pathological waste, radioactive waste, or empty chemotherapeutic/cytotoxic waste.

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, according to Campanella.

The two pyrolysis machines plan to run 24 hours a day to maintain a heat of about 1,652 degrees. Stopping and starting the system is avoided because it takes four hours of natural gas-fueled heating to reach the desired operating temperature. Fueled by the syngas, six generators with a capacity of 1.4 megawatts of electricity will offset electricity use in the building. The remainder of the power will be sold to the regional electric grid.

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). Campanella and his attorney, K. Joseph Shekarchi, focused on the cleanliness and green elements of the process.

“It’s a green project. This is a state-of-the-art facility,” said Shekarchi, who is also a Democratic state representative serving Warwick.

When asked by Planning Board chairman Joseph DiMartino, “You are not going to be the first that can do this?”

Campanella replied, “No. No, we’re not,” noting that the technology isn’t new.

However, the device, manufactured by Technotherm Inc. of South Africa, is the first of its kind to process medical waste. The company has only three gasification devices in operation. Two are in South Africa — one serves a slaughterhouse and the other processes plastic waste. A third facility in the United Kingdom burns wood. A Technotherm Inc. device is being considered for a sludge waste-to-energy plant in Schenectady, N.Y.

DEM is unaware of a commercial medical-waste pyrolysis facility in the Northeast or elsewhere in the country.

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.

Campanella noted that between three and five trucks would make deliveries daily. The application submitted to the state said 10 trucks would make deliveries daily.

Philip Marx, an attorney representing 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,” Marx said. “We have to make sure the environment is safe.”

Shekarchi replied, “They are not going to do anything that’s going to expose them or anyone else to any kind of harm.”

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.

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.

However, a Senate resolution to study gasification passed last year. The commission has yet to hold a meeting but one is expected soon, according to Statehouse officials.

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 by the Environment Council of Rhode Island at the Statehouse.

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.

Campenella insisted that the total annual emissions would be equal to the emissions from two automobiles. He said he intends to have students and other members of the public visit the plant and see the highly efficient waste-disposal system operate.

“It’s proven technology, and it’s not like an incinerator,” Campanella said.

Studies question the efficiency of pyrolysis systems because of the excessive use of electricity needed to run them as compared to the amount of electricity they generate.

CLF has pointed to the financial risk associated with operating a pyrolysis plant. Challenges maintaining temperatures make the machinery prone to breakdowns and have forced several relatively new pyrolysis facilities to close in Europe and Australia, according to the organization.

“That’s part of the concern,” CLF staff attorney Kevin Budris said. “They are really untested technologies.”

Budris said he is also concerned about the storage of medical waste onsite, some of which my be radioactive and stored until the material decays to a safe level for gasification.

Although pyrolysis facilities are uncommon, there’s no law against building a privately run operation in Rhode Island.

The Planing 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.

Campenella is CEO of both MedRecycler-RI and Sun Pacific Holdings, which appears to operate several start-up businesses. In an October 2019 press release, Sun Pacific said it raised $8.725 million for its MedRecycler-RI venture.

Campanella said at the May 6, 2019 Planning Board meeting that he was moving from New Jersey to West Warwick to operate the facility. Up to 10 employees will be hired to staff the operation, he said.

The 1600 Division Road office park is owned by Brookwood Financial Partners, based in Beverly, Mass. The 550,000-square-foot building previously housed a call center for the MetLife insurance company.

MedRecycler-RI would occupy 50,000 square feet. Future expansion of the business is a goal, Campanella said.

According to the application, the Rhode Island facility is a “flagship project” meant “as a springboard to quickly develop its business throughout USA.”

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  1. the PC better hire some independent experts to review this project. there s a lot of issues with residual waste and air emissions from incineration or pyrolysis or what ever you choose to call it. PCB s dioxin, volitilized metals etc etc

  2. Lets try this again, first a power plant proposal up in Burrillville was shot down by the EFSB that basically stipulated that the power plant players did not prove their case where more power was necessary in the state of Rhode Island, at the same time, solar farms and wind power are flourishing within the state that did not need power, inclusive of the Town of Burrillville, and now this fantastic idea of bringing a high risk disease/waste disposal system into the state that will be receiving said waste from all over the state and New England just for now under the premises of waste fuels generated to power someone with no need for power. I do not know about the rest of you but I am all set from here on with the tree hugging society that was already aware of this co-waste/power generation facility to even exist in this state.

  3. Having spent over four weeks in RIH when our son was dying from cancer, I became aware of the sheer amount of plastic waste produced and collected from his room – saline bottles, IV bags (nutrition and hydration) and tubes, rubber gloves, mouth sponge sticks, suction tubes and cups, masks, gowns, etc. During the most heart-wrenching days of my life, how could there have been any room in my mind to consider medical waste? Because, 18 months before this, our son was a healthy young man, traveling abroad in Sardenia with an NU College of Engineering study group, investigating Waste Management. As a result of his well-documented adventures, I had become more attuned to waste of all kinds. Today, I can imagine our son, somewhere in the beyond, looking down on this MedRecycler project, rubbing his chin in thought and thinking, "Hmmm, I like this idea. This has potential, however, let’s assure that it can, in fact, be accomplished in a clean, safe, effective and efficient manner. If so, this is going to be a big Win." He loved to win.

  4. Ray,
    What do our Universities think, we have many in our state which have some "real experts", not politicians which may have financial interest. (Think of Marihuana Growers, etc.) URI, Brown, and Roger Williams have both Environmental Engineering and Medical Engineering Programs. This is where I would look for advisement on this issue, not the Company pushing their technology!

  5. Sure why not? A businessman says it’s "green." So what if it’s an untested technology – there’s money to be made and stock holders to appease, and RI is the perfect little testing arena (what’s wrong with NJ – have they had enough of this guy?). The health problems probably won’t show up until Campanella and his minions are long gone, and cancer is so hard to trace to an environmental cause. We don’t need no stinkin’ scientists mucking up the works!

    • What need is there for this facility?
          – Are there backlogs at med-waste disposal facilities elsewhere in the region?
         – If not, then why build this project with little need?
    • Is this registered as a Transfer, Storage, Disposal Facility (TSDF)?
          – If not, why and how? There’s no good reason this should avoid federal regulations.
             – Does using pyrolysis enable you to avoid classifying as an incinerator and avoiding heavier regulations?
         – Who is the local emergency planning committee? West warwick? East Greenwich?- Is this facility regulated by the Clean Air Act?
         – what’s the NAICS code? 
    • What is a synthesis gas?
         – This is an extremely broad and fluffy term, could literally be anything
         – Demand a safety data sheet- What does your permit allow for emissions of "synthesis gas"?- Is there any filter system on the stacks?
         – If not, why???   – If so, are these cleaned or replaced?
         – If cleaned, then how often? Where does the water come from? Where does the wastewater go?
         – If replaced, what bio safety level are these disposed as? Where do those get incinerated?- What bio safety level are you permitted to receive????
         – BSL1 – E. Coli
         – BSL2 – HIV, Staph infections, influenza
         – BSL3 – West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever
         – BSL4 – Ebola, Marburg virus
         – What happens if you accidentally receive material that exceeds your permit? Do you foresee having ebola-type waste sitting in the back of a tractor trailer on your property, if you can’t receive it? What if it accidentally made it into the facility? These scenarios are almost guaranteed to happen eventually.
    • What types of plastic does your pyrolysis system actually convert to biofuels?
         – There are infinite types of plastics out there. So while the shipping containers may be good plastic for pyrolysis, there could be a low likelihood that any of the material inside the containers is actually good fuel. 

    "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."

    • dioxins are incredibly toxic wastes, some of which cannot even legally be disposed of in the USA (must be shipped to Canada for incineration).
          – What volumes are these wastes being generated? How are they being handled, stored and shipped?
    • mercury and heavy metals are incredibly toxic and are very difficult and expensive  to remediate a potential release or leaching
    • By product gases listed includes sodium sulfide. Sodium sulfide is a poisonous gas.   – What volumes and concentrations are they applying to be permitted to release?
    • Carbon dioxide & carbon monoxide are oxygen depleting gases.
         – What volumes and concentrations are they applying to be permitted to release?- What powers this facility? local power station? Are electricity prices going to be affected?
          – What’s the power demand of this facility?
    • How broad is the region that you’re selling companies on your facility?
         – Where will trucks be coming from Boston? New Haven? Springfield?
         – What congestion will this cause to local traffic patterns?

    My opinion:These are a bunch of smoke and mirror jokers from jersey that found out RI is giving incentives to ‘green’ businesses and they’re likely trying to exploit ‘pyrolysis’ as a ‘green’ energy because there’s probably little to no existing regulations around the process. If DEM drops the ball on this, there will be a terrible precedent set and this facility will be a blight on the region and probably a brownfield when turds comes to shine. These cowboys don’t care about RI given that they’re using a carbon intensive process that has never been tested under these potentially, extreme scenarios. They are wildly out of their league. Not even stericycle (the monopoly holder on the med-waste market) has tried pulling any crap like this. 

    I heavily discourage this project from continuing.

  6. OH and if you receive a hot (radioactive) trailer load from nuclear-medical studies, then what?
    – Where does the material go? What facilities?
    – How long are you enabling it to stay on your property?
    – Do you have technicians that have to go into the trailer and screen for the source?
    – Is the whole trailer rejected? This adds a carbon cost of additional shipping now.

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