Stricter rules included for Matthews company
by Kara Lopp
The controversial medical waste incinerator in Matthews has a new five-year permit.
Mecklenburg County Air Quality renewed the permit for BMWNC Inc. on Monday, Dec. 6. The news came about a month after the local chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League called on regulators to shut down the company at 3250 Campus Ridge Road. The permit process had been delayed while county officials conducted unannounced inspections following the discovery of nine air-quality violations this spring.
The new permit does include stricter guidelines for BMWNC, however. And environmental groups and Matthews and Stallings officials are pushing state officials to enforce stricter federal regulations on incinerators ahead of 2014, the compliance date set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
BMWNC – owned by Cincinnati-based Healthcare Waste Solutions – burns waste from doctors’ offices and hospitals, including Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, such as old medical records, used syringes, removed organs, amputated limbs, chemotherapy waste and biopsy tissue.
The permit renewal will require that BMWNC:
• Not allow smoke to escape through its bypass stack.
• Make any necessary repairs within 10 days unless they receive written permission from the county to take longer.
• Conduct daily emission tests of ash storage and handling.
• Keep records on file for at least five years and have them readily available for inspectors.
All of these rules could have prevented some of the violations the company recently received, including potentially toxic smoke released through a broken pipe. Company officials previously said they knew the pipe was broken and were going to fix it during the company’s next regularly-scheduled maintenance day.
Under the new permit, emission limits apply at all times, including start-up, shutdown and malfunctions, all activities previously exempt from the standards, Don Willard, county air quality director, said.
The county plans to fine BMWNC for its violations this spring, but officials have not set the amount, Willard said. The company was cited for nine air-quality violations during three separate inspections from March 30 to April 16. Three of the violations involved potentially toxic smoke escaping the plant.
“BMWNC is pleased that the state of North Carolina and Mecklenburg County are confident its operation is compliant, having passed all unannounced compliance inspections over a four-week period commencing Oct. 12,” company spokeswoman Michelle McSorley said in a written statement. “BMWNC is currently reviewing the new conditions in the Title V permit. However, it is confident that these conditions will be met within the timeframe given.”
Mint Hill resident Catherine Mitchell, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Citizens for a Healthy Environment, said the group expected the county to renew the company’s permit. The group continues to lobby for enforcing the new, federal incinerator guidelines well before the new state-adopted deadline of July 1, 2013. Mecklenburg County Commissioners passed two resolutions favoring a compliance deadline of Oct. 6, 2012.
The towns of Matthews and Stallings want the 2012 enforcement deadline also. County air quality officials will make a case for this compliance deadline to the state Environmental Management Commission on Jan. 13, Willard said.
The rules clamp down on medical waste incineration companies to provide more documentation and better control of emissions – with stricter penalties for violations. North Carolina is home to two medical waste incinerators: BMWNC in Matthews and Stericycle in Haw River.
“We actually weren’t surprised by that,” Mitchell said of the permit renewal. “We’re still hoping for the earlier implementation.”
Want to know more?
A copy of the permit conditions BMWNC in Matthews must comply with is available online at http://airquality.charmeck.org under “Hot Topics.”