North County's Dumping Ground ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


North County citizens who live next door to Baltimore City's industrial belt have the worst of both worlds. They have no clout in Baltimore City Hall, where decisions about chemical plants and incinerators are made, yet they suffer the effects of these undesirable neighbors more than most city residents.

Their latest source of worry is Medical Waste Associates' new Hawkins Point incinerator, which they have fought since it was proposed. MWA wants the city's permission to burn more infectious hospital waste, a request that might seem reasonable if its operations thus far were not suspect.

MWA, which is allowed to burn waste from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, says its operating costs have been one-third higher than expected, and it needs more trash to turn a profit. Mayor Kurt Schmoke has introduced legislation that would allow MWA to take waste from Montgomery, Carroll, Prince George's and Howard counties.

It is difficult not to be leery of MWA's request. The MWA asked to expand its collection area belatedly, after it started sneaking out-of-state waste to the plant illegally. When it got caught, it fought the city all the way to the state's highest court, which sided with the city. MWA is still burning 30 tons a day of out-of-state waste, a practice the city is trying to stop with a pending lawsuit.

Now community activists who have reviewed state environmental records say they have found evidence that the amount of trash burned from the authorized area alone is about 30 tons greater than MWA claims.

The Sun supported construction of the Hawkins Point incinerator. A central incinerator for hospitals seemed to make sense. It still does. Yet we wonder how honest MWA has been.

The City Council needs to study those MDE records and ask MWA to open its books before it makes any move on Mayor Schmoke's bill. An independent appraisal of the plant's financial state and operations would be a good idea, too. Otherwise, how do we know if the current law governing MWA really needs to be changed?

We have only MWA's word that the proposed new catchment area will make the plant profitable, or that its financial situation is as dire as it says. And MWA's word is not good enough.

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