News | July 6, 1999

WV Orders Medical Waste Burn-emissions Reduction

A draft plan proposed in June by the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection would have all medical waste incinerators shape up or shut down.

The draft plan calls for compliance with the U.S. EPA's August 1997emissions limits for medical waste burners. Several facilities in the state have already shut down; several others are considering the possibility.

However, more than a dozen medical waste incinerators in West Virginia reportedly emit more pollution than allowed under the federal guidelines.

Most of the state's problematic incinerators cannot meet EPA's rules for emissions of dioxins, hydrogen chloride, lead, cadmium and mercury, according to DEP.

Facilities have three years from the date that the EPA approves the state plan to comply with the new emissions limits.

The Charleston Gazette, in reporting the situation, said that the EPA estimated that its rules would reduce emissions of mercury, dioxins, hydrogen chloride, and particulate matter by more than 90%.

In 1997 the agency pegged the cost of compliance at between U.S.$60 million and $120 million for hospitals and labs across the nation.

The EPA estimated that 50 to 80% all existing incinerators would probably close rather than retrofit. Those facilities could switch to other waste-disposal methods--such as autoclaving--or send waste off site to be burned--which would cost less than 35 cents more a day.

In 1991, West Virginia passed legislation to discourage incineration and encourage a reduction of medical waste produced.