Baltimore lawmakers will consider a bill tomorrow afternoon that would allow a Hawkins Point medical waste incinerator to expand service.
The City Council's Health and Environment Committee will be evaluating the health effects of adding four more counties to the list of jurisdictions allowed to send medical waste to the 2-year-old plant.
Committee members will weigh the specter of hypodermic needles washing up on Maryland beaches against air quality and other health concerns, said Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, who chairs the group.
"Nobody wants an incinerator next door," said Mr. Cunningham, one of the architects of the 1989 zoning law that allowed Medical Waste Associates to open on the city-Anne Arundel County line. "Unfortunately, that's the [disposal] technology that we have."
Mr. Cunningham said the council imposed restrictions five years ago to keep the incinerator from becoming a nuisance or health hazard to the surrounding neighborhoods. Among them, the council said only the city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties could send waste to the Hawkins Point plant.
The company has since argued that it cannot operate profitably unless it can accept waste from a wider area. If it closes, the 21 hospitals that have 20-year contracts with the plant would have no place to dispose of their medical wastes.
The new bill would expand the service area to include Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and Carroll counties.
Opponents, including residents from Brooklyn, Curtis Bay and Anne Arundel County, and proponents such as the Maryland Hospital Association, whose members have long-term contracts with the waste-burning facility, are lining up to testify at the hearing. The city Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment also are expected, Mr. Cunningham said.
Dru Schmidt-Perkins, director of the Clean Water Action Project, a nonprofit group, said the city is bailing out a poorly managed company using "out-dated technology." She plans to present testimony on three alternatives, including microwaving wastes.
Residents from Brooklyn, Curtis Bay and Anne Arundel County are chartering a bus to take them to the 5 p.m. hearing at the City Council chambers, said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition. The Glen Burnie-based environmental group filed suit five years ago in an attempt to block construction.