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Rhode Island rejects permit for medical waste-to-energy plant

Department of Environmental Management cites newly passed law in rejecting MedRecycler proposal for West Warwick site

The MedRecycler plant was proposed for a site at 1600 Division Road in West Warwick, Rhode Island.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Environmental Management on Tuesday rejected the permit application for a proposed medical waste-to-energy plant in West Warwick.

A New Jersey company, MedRecycler, had pitched the project as a way to reduce waste sent to the state’s Central Landfill while creating “clean, renewable energy” through a high-heat process called pyrolysis.

But environmental groups had said the proposal, which calls for processing up to 70 tons of medical waste per day, does not represent a renewable energy project and poses a significant environmental threat.

In refusing to issue the permit, DEM ticked off a series of deficiencies in MedRecyler’s permit application, and it noted that the General Assembly just passed a law prohibiting high-heat waste processing facilities in the state. Governor Daniel J. McKee signed that bill into law on July 9.


“The department believes that regardless of the deficiencies in the application,” DEM wrote, “this law would prohibit the Department from issuing or granting a permit or license for this proposed facility.”

DEM cited the following factors in denying the application:

  • The proposal lacked adequate details about testing protocols, necessary for public review, as part of the permit review process for a medical waste treatment plant.
  • The proposal included incomplete contingency and response plans to explain what would happen in an emergency. Many of the more than 400 members of the public who commented during the application’s comment period cited concerns about the proposal’s lack of strong environmental monitoring and safety plans.
  • The proposal lacked of clarity about how much and where medical waste would be safely, which DEM considered a “critical deficiency” in the application.
  • The facility is proposed in a densely populated area close to residential neighborhoods, making the public review of the contingency plans and testing protocols even more relevant. There is no buffer between the proposed facility and other tenants located at that address and little buffer between the facility and surrounding community.
  • Uncertainty over the impacts of the proposed facility’s innovative technology. This proposed system has not previously been used on medical waste.

Nicholas Campanella – chairman and CEO of MedRecycler’s parent company, Sun Pacific Holding Corp. – said, “This decision makes it perfectly clear why Rhode Island’s business climate was ranked 46th out of the 50 states earlier today. The company will consider all of its legal options, of which there are many.”

MedRecycler has noted that it submitted its application well before the legislature passed the law barring high-heat waste processing facilities. So the new law should not apply to the West Warwick proposal, the company’s lawyers argued, emphasizing that the new law contains no clear language requiring retroactive application.

Kevin Budris, staff attorney for the zero waste project at the Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island office, hailed DEM’s decision.

“MedRecycler was proposing to make Rhode Island the destination in the Northeast for burning medical waste, and DEM just said no,” Budris said. “This is great news for Rhode Islanders. This is great news for our climate. And this is great news for our environment.”


Budris noted that DEM cited eight grounds for denying the permit. “That goes to show just how poorly thought out and dangerous this proposal was,” he said. “In particular, there were insufficient testing protocols, and MedRecycler was proposing this in an area with no buffer zone between the proposed site and neighboring businesses, a day cay care, and nearby homes.”

The Conservation Law Foundation said that by rejecting the MedRecycler proposal, Rhode Island will be able to stay on track to meet its enforceable goals in the Act on Climate law, which makes the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions mandatory and enforceable.

The proposed MedRecycler facility would occupy 48,000 square feet, or about 10 percent, of an existing building at 1600 Division Road in West Warwick, near the border with East Greenwich.

Two Democratic state lawmakers from East Greenwich – Senator Bridget Valverde and Representative Justine Caldwell – introduced legislation to prevent the state from issuing permits or licenses for any new “high-heat waste processing facility.” The House and Senate passed the bills in the closing days of this year’s legislative session.

“I am overjoyed and proud of the work that so many people put in to fight the permit application and to pass the law,” Caldwell said Tuesday. “I want to thank my colleagues in the House because this was not just about protecting East Greenwich – this was about protecting the entire state.”


Now, MedRecycler won’t be able to go to another town in Rhode Island where residents might not have resources to fight the proposal, she said.

“This would have made us a destination for other people’s trash,” Caldwell said. “This is one time when we want to say ‘We are closed for business’ – the business of accepting other people’s trash.”

In April, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha had called for pausing the state review process for the MedRecycler facility. In a letter to DEM, the attorney general’s office raised “numerous procedural and substantive concerns” about the proposal and asked the agency to halt its review of MedRecycler’s license application “until the proper technology analysis is conducted and all required certifications are obtained.”

“We stepped in because this proposal raised significant environmental and public health issues,” Neronha tweeted after DEM issued its decision Tuesday. “This is precisely the right result.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.