DEM Rejects MedRecycler Permit for Medical Waste Facility in West Warwick
July 14, 2021
PROVIDENCE — Environmental regulators denied a permit for a high-heat medical waste treatment facility following public outcry about potential health and environmental dangers, which led state lawmakers and the governor to take action effectively banning the process within Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a decision July 13 denying an application by MedRecycler Inc. for a facility in West Warwick. The state agency said the ruling was prompted by the passage of a law placing strict and expansive geographic restrictions on medical waste disposal using pyrolysis.
Pyrolysis heats biomass to thousands of degrees without oxygen, producing char, liquid or gas, including methane and carbon dioxide. Critics say the process contributes to air pollution and possible groundwater contamination.
The agency’s ruling, signed by acting DEM director Terrence Gray, cited “insufficient detail” in the company’s application in light of the proposed use of “innovative and largely untested technology” at the office park facility.
DEM noted the application’s failure to file specific information, including contingency plans with the West Warwick and East Greenwich fire departments, biological testing protocols to demonstrate system efficacy and waste containment, costs in case of facility closure and details of a required buffer zone between the facility and adjacent properties.
Democratic Gov. Dan McKee signed the law July 9 enacting limits on high-heat medical waste processing facilities in Rhode Island, which DEM cited as influential in its decision to deny MedRecycler’s application. The decision noted the new statute’s language barring the process within 2,000 feet of water, open spaces and parks or within a mile of schools, assisted-living facilities and areas zoned residential.
“The Department believes that regardless of the deficiencies in the application outlined above, this law would prohibit the Department from issuing or granting a permit or license for this proposed facility,” according to a DEM statement.
MedRecycler CEO Nicholas Campanella, who is also chairman of New Jersey-based parent company Sun Pacific Holding Corp., did not respond to an email with questions from ecoRI News. He issued a statement following the DEM ruling, saying, in part, “The company will consider all of its legal options, of which there are many.”
DEM chief public affairs officer Michael Healey said an appeal can be filed within 30 calendar days of a decision.
The West Warwick plant, which was under state review for two years, would have been one of the world’s largest medical waste pyrolysis facilities, disposing of up to 70 tons of waste daily from Rhode Island and other Northeast states. There was plenty of public opposition to the project, and misinformation spread by Campanella.
Campanella previously said pyrolysis does not burn waste, instead uses extreme temperatures to convert material into synthesis gas and tar used as heating fuel for the system, while the ash byproduct can be deposited in a landfill or used as a concrete and asphalt additive.
“It’s not burned or incinerated, it’s just converted through a process we have here,” Campanella said during a DEM licensing hearing in January.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha issued a statement in support of the DEM ruling, saying his office expressed concerns months ago “about the significant environmental and public health impacts that the waste treatment facility presented to surrounding communities.”
The legislative process to block the facility began June 30 when the House passed the High-Heat Medical Waste Facility Act by a vote of 43-22. The Senate passed the House bill July 1 by a vote of 32-5. The General Assembly debate on the use of pyrolysis for medical waste focused on whether there should be defined geographic limits or an outright state ban. Legislators did not publicly express support for hosting the facility in their districts.
“Does it belong in my neighborhood? I don’t think so,” said Rep. Patricia Serpa, D-West Warwick. “Does it belong in any of your neighborhoods? I’m sure that if this was literally in your backyard, you would be begging us to pass this.”
State lawmakers took to social media in support of the DEM decision to deny the application.
“DEM has denied MedRecycler & thanks to our colleagues in the GA, they can’t bring their waste and dangerous tech to our beautiful state,” wrote Democratic Rep. Justine Caldwell, whose East Greenwich constituency borders the West Warwick area where the facility was proposed.
“Regardless of what special interests may claim when marketing these proposals to our cities & towns, burning waste is not a form of renewable energy,” Rep. David Morales, D-Providence, wrote in a post. “It’s dangerous & poses a risk to the health of our neighbors.”