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Burning questions.

Burning Questions

Arkansas Hospitals Soon To Have Option Of Using Commercial Medical Waste Incinerator

A burning issue is facing area hospitals and the Little Rock Board of Directors.

Early next month, the board is to decide whether to issue $5.5 million in bonds for a commercial medical waste incinerator.

If the board refuses to issue the bonds, EnviroSystems Development Inc. of Louisville, Ky., says it still has the finances needed to build the incinerator.

EnviroSystems received a permit from the state Department of Pollution Control and Ecology on Sept. 13, 1990, to construct an incinerator. The company says it will begin construction this summer.

However, most hospitals in central Arkansas already have their own incinerators.

Is there a need for a commercial medical waste incinerator?

John Boyd, one of four partners in EnviroSystems, says there is.

After having a market analysis performed more than two years ago, Boyd decided to create Arkansas Envirocorp Inc. and operate an incinerator. He says existing hospital incinerators won't meet stricter federal standards. Those standards are expected to be issued by November.

It will mark the first time the Environmental Protection Agency has issued standards on medical incinerators. Congress mandated the action with passage of Clean Air Act amendments in 1990.

A Discreet Background

EnviroSystems has built 14 incinerators outside of Arkansas. Three more are under construction. Boyd says the locations of most incinerators are confidential.

Boyd's partner, Dean Smith, says the company is building one of its commercial medical waste incinerators in Nashville, Tenn., through a subsidiary known as Metro Engineering Services Inc. The facility is expected to be operational within 90 days and is similar to the proposed Little Rock incinerator.

People in Nashville know very little about either EnviroSystems or the incinerator.

The same is true in Arkansas.

Charlene Hardcastle, president of Capital View Neighborhood Association, is one of those who says she is concerned about the company's environmental record.

"We need to answer some questions," she says.

Officials at PC&E and city hall are also concerned.

Boyd says his company has no past violations and is insured in the event of an environmental accident.

Wilson Tolefree, deputy director of PC&E, points out that the company received its permit prior to legislative passage of the so-called bad actor law. That law, approved earlier this year, gives the state the authority to deny permits to companies with poor environmental records in other states. Tolefree says he knows nothing of EnviroSystems' track record.

Dr. Hampton Roy, a recently elected member of the Little Rock Board of Directors, says the board is responsible only for issuing bonds to build the facility. He says it is PC&E's responsibility to make sure the incinerator meets state standards.

"I'm going to be a fan of it because we need to be up-to-date and competitive," Roy says.

Hospital Doubts

Area hospitals are taking a wait-and-see approach.

If their incinerators fail to meet new federal standards, hospital officials will have to decide if it will be more cost-effective to upgrade existing incinerators or to use the commercial facility.

The state Department of Health requires hospitals to dispose of medical waste in four ways: sterilizing by using superheated steam under pressure, incinerating, using approved sewer systems or using sanitary landfills.

A common hospital policy is to incinerate anything that comes in contact with a patient. The disposal list ranges from amputated limbs to cotton balls.

Jim Limbird, marketing director for Southwest Hospital, describes the basic medical incinerator as a "glorified furnance that produces high levels of heat, burns flesh, collapses metal and powderizes bones."

Limbird says Southwest would consider using a commercial incinerator.

Southwest's incinerator is a small one because the hospital did not "want to invest a lot of money in something that soon will be obsolete," Limbird says.

After viewing the proposed standards, Larry Whitt, senior vice president of maintenance and engineering at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, says he doesn't believe St. Vincent's incinerator will meet federal guidelines. He says the hospital will consider upgrading its facility, buying an incinerator that will meet the standards or using the commercial incinerator.

Whitt says a commercial incinerator is a "good idea for some hospitals. For doctors' offices and labs, it would be an excellent alternative."

Boyd says even the newest incinerator in Arkansas, Baptist Medical System's 1989 model, will not meet the federal standards unless it is upgraded.

Baptist Disagreement

Bruce Lawrence, senior vice president of support services at Baptist, disagrees.

Lawrence says when Baptist bought its incinerator, it was designed to meet more stringent standards. Because no one is yet sure exactly what standards will be implemented, Lawrence says he doesn't know if the hospital will use the commercial incinerator.

"I know nothing about the company or what it has proposed," Lawrence says.

Lou Kiene, hazardous material safety officer for the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences at Little Rock, says UAMS "would prefer to maintain control" of its own waste disposal operation.

Paul McAdams, an engineer for the state Health Department, doesn't believe new regulations will force the shutodwn of existing incinerators."

McAdams says the Kentucky company is gambling "that laws will be changed." He predicts that some hospitals will be able to meet the standards, while others won't.

If Arkansas hospitals don't use the incinerator, the company will consider importing medical wastes.

"That is always a business option," Boyd says.

Boyd, however, remains confident that Arkansas hospitals will be forced by EPA to consider using a commercial incinerator.

PHOTO : BURNING WASTES: John Boyd of Arkansas Envirocorp has proposed building a commercial medical waste incinerator on West 60th Street in Little Rock. Boyd says the incinerator will exceed local, state and federal regulations. New standards for medical waste incinerators will be proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in November.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas hospitals use of medical waste incinerators
Author:Kreth, Ellen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 27, 1991
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