Baltimore and state health officials testified last night that a regional medical waste incinerator in Hawkins Point has improved the city's air quality since it opened two years ago.
But opponents of Medical Waste Associates' 150-ton-per-day incinerator strongly disagreed with those assessments at a hearing before the Baltimore City Council Health and Environment Committee.
The opponents argued -- among other things -- that the facility has increased the amount of smog-generating emissions in the city.
The committee is considering the public health and environment impact of a bill that would expand the incinerator's service area to include Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and Carroll counties.
The 4-year-old zoning law that enabled Medical Waste to build the incinerator restricts its service area to the city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
Karen Goodhart, Medical Waste's chief executive officer, said that if the bill fails, the company will close.
The company, which opened the incinerator in May 1991, has been violating the zoning law by bringing in out-of-state waste. It is doing so, the company said, because there is not enough waste generated locally to make the operation profitable.
Because Medical Waste has contracts with 15 of the city's 23 hospitals that might otherwise operate smaller incinerators, air pollution has been reduced, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, city health commissioner.
Although the Maryland Department of the Environment cited the plant for emission violations two months ago, Frank Courtwright, representing the department, said the incinerator currently is in compliance with all state regulations.
He said the emissions that exceeded permitted levels at the time of the violation were carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.
But Mary Rosso, president of the Glen Burnie-based Maryland Waste Coalition, a nonprofit volunteer advocacy group, said the incinerator had actually increased the amount of nitrogen oxide, a component of smog, because it burns waste at much higher temperatures than smaller plants.
She also said that while air pollution may have fallen region-wide, Medical Waste's incinerator has concentrated emissions within a three-mile area that includes the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay sections of Baltimore and Northern Anne Arundel County.
The opponents suggested alternatives to burning medical wastes, including microwaving and autoclaving and chemical sterilization. A Texas-based manufacturer of chemical sterilization equipment, who flew in from Houston for the hearing, said waste can also be shredded to reduce its volume by 90 percent, the same rate as incineration, without generating emissions.
The committee is to report its findings to the council's Land Use Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on the bill at 2:30 p.m. June 8 in the City Council chambers.