Members of the Suwannee County Economic Alliance and others gathered at the Train Depot on Wednesday for an invitation only meeting to hear from representatives of Integrated Waste Management Systems Inc., a company proposing to place four medical waste incinerators at the catalyst site in Northwestern Suwannee County. The press was notified the day of the meeting.
If constructed, IWMS Suwannee facility will consist of four hospital, medical, infectious waste incinerator (HMIWI) units. Each unit will burn 2,500 pounds per hour, a maximum of 30-tons per day of hospital, medical and infectious waste.
Major General (retired) Marvin Jay Barry, president of IWMS and the company’s consultant, Alberta Hipps of the Hipps Group, a consulting firm out of Jacksonville, were on hand to give a presentation and answer questions about the proposed project.
Also on hand was Russell Simpson, northeast district ombudsman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Medical waste incinerators not new to Florida
“I want to be clear on one thing,” Barry said. “There used to be, three or four years ago, 10 of these facilities operating in the state of Florida. The closest one down in Apopka ran by Stericycle. These 10 facilities, some of them are more than 20 years old, they have all been doing this, not quite as effectively as this system will. But they’ve been doing it for the last 20 years. They have been disposing of those ash components to this day.”
“We may have that (waste remains) coming through this county anyhow,” said Suwannee County resident Tim Alcorn. “The trains (that) run through here, you don’t know what’s on that train...yet we’re worried about this ash and its transportation.”
“This is perplexing to me because the ash should not be an issue. It’s dead,” Barry said. “It’s a result of being burned at 2,000 degrees, folks. There’s nothing living there. It’s not like an autoclave where they key it up to a couple hundred degrees and steam it. If they have 100 pounds of waste in an autoclave, then they have 100 pounds of chopped up junk that goes out to a landfill.”
“There is a measure that’s included with these emissions called opacity, and that’s the ability to see through it,” Barry said. “I believe 80, 90, 100 percent is black or gray smoke. This (facility) has to operate at five percent capacity. What that is, is the visible stream of hot gases. It’s not a smoke.”
Local resident Wendell Snowden said, “When citizens see white smoke, they feel comfortable. But when they see black smoke, they worry.”
“There will be no black smoke,” Barry said.
The punishment for violations
“As far as the regulatory authority goes, what type of action is the result of non-compliance?” County Administrator Randy Harris asked. “Does the DEP step in and say ‘stop immediately’, and then does it take 10 days for the facility to shut down? That’s the type of question that has been circulating out here.”
Simpson was on hand to answer the question.
“Certainly, I don’t have a straight forward answer but we will have one for you. I can assure you of this, if it had any type of harmful effect for the people, the citizens of this county, we would definitely take action to shut down whatever operations were non-compliant. So from a health and safety standpoint, we would definitely take very quick and decisive action for that type compliance issue,” Simpson said.
He continued, “If we were talking about non-incidental compliance issues, then that would be another issue within itself. We would work with the facility to counteract and counter-balance that.”
“How tolerant is DEP?” Harris asked. “We’re hearing lots of criticism before anything has actually occurred, so the best way to address that, I think, is to say, ‘Okay, this is what occurs if there is non-compliance.’”
Barry replied, “I can’t speak for them (DEP), but I do know they’ve obviously had 20 plus years of experience. I’m sure there are guidelines set up, and those guidelines will have to be changed based on the new rules, the numbers for those guidelines. When someone doesn’t meet those guidelines, there’s going to be some kind of action taken.”
“Now, I also have to say that in these specific modules, a system of systems, in order to operate at peak efficiency, the system has to comply with those new guidelines. If not, then there’s probably something wrong with the system. We have people monitoring those systems continuously that will be able to pinpoint any kind of problems. If it’s bad enough, for self preservations, we’re going to end up shutting that thing down,” Barry said.
The next step for IWMS
Simpson said DEP did issue a permit which allows the building of the facility itself.
“Prior to it ever becoming operational, they will have to come back to us and receive an operational permit. At that point, that’s when we will stipulate what would be expected and what action would be taken (if non-compliant), but again, I’m just putting words in my own mouth because I’m not certain of that,” Simpson said. “But the operational portion of the permitting process will ensure that all emissions requirements will be met prior to the facility ever opening.”
“You mentioned flipping the switch, spewing things out in the atmosphere and hurting everyone, I take that into consideration and I understand people’s opinion, but the fact is it’s not true. This facility will be a minor source of those emissions. The most worrisome emission you hear people talk about is dioxins. They say this is going to spew those dioxins and it’s going to kill people and kill the fish, cattle and everything else,” Barry said. “This source, our facility, is minuscule compared with our normal sources.
Barry said burn barrels, burn pits and piles and forest fires all produce dioxins grossly more than his facility will.
“The difference is, in my facility, I’ve got a multi-million dollar system of filters that filters that stuff out. You burn trash, you’re getting the real stuff into the atmosphere right there. That’s so much more than my facility will ever produce,” said Barry.