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EPA Settles Enforcement Case with North Andover-Based Trash Incinerator; Company Agrees to Fund Mercury-Reduction Project at Area Hospitals

Release Date: 04/06/1999
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced it has settled an enforcement case against a North Andover-based trash incinerator, with the company agreeing to pay a $25,000 penalty and fund a $91,000 project to reduce mercury from the waste stream at a dozen hospitals and health clinics north of Boston.

The settlement was negotiated with the incinerator's owner, Wheelabrator Environmental Systems Inc., and its subsidiary, Massachusetts REFUSETECH Inc. (MRI), which operates the facility.

MRI was originally cited in November 1997 for numerous Clean Air Act permit violations that were discovered during EPA inspections at the incinerator earlier that year. The inspections were done after citizen groups reviewed facility records and alerted EPA to problems at the facility.

Among other violations, the company was cited for: failure to monitor the rate at which trash was being fed into the incinerator; excess time in which the incinerator's air emissions monitors were not measuring emissions; and excess sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide emissions in the fourth quarter of 1995.

"Some of MRI's operating and monitoring procedures were unacceptable, especially considering the potential environmental harm that can arise from incinerator-induced air pollutants," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "This settlement ensures that operational problems at the incinerator will be corrected and it paves the way for eliminating the use of mercury-containing products at nearby hospitals and health clinics. I commend the concerned citizens for highlighting the issues of incineration in Greater Lawrence."

Mercury is a toxic and persistent pollutant, and one of the primary ways it gets into the environment is from incineration, a major source of airborne mercury in New England. The primary health effects of mercury are on the neurological development of children exposed through fish consumption and fetuses exposed through their mother's consumption of fish. Mercury is responsible for health advisories limiting consumption of fish in 40 states, including all New England states.

The settlement requires that MRI takes specific measures to ensure and document future compliance with its Clean Air Act permit.

The $91,000 project that MRI will fund includes a specific goal of substantially reducing mercury-containing products from waste streams of 12 hospitals and clinics within one year. The goal will be achieved by working with hospitals and clinics to promote the use of mercury-free equipment and supplies and to recycle mercury-containing items that cannot be replaced with mercury-free alternatives.

The mercury-reduction initiative also will include training assistance to hospital purchasing and maintenance departments and promotion of a mercury thermostat recycling initiative with the Thermostat Recycling Corp. in Rosslyn, Va.

The project is part of a multi-pronged effort by EPA's New England Office to encourage the region's hundreds of hospitals and health-care facilities to reduce and eliminate their usage of mercury-containing products over the next several years. Earlier this month, DeVillars sent out letters to 276 health care facilities in the region challenging them to lead the nation in eliminating mercury and mercury-containing waste by the year 2003. The project follows a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed last year by the American Hospital Association and EPA Headquarters in Washington, seeking the virtual elimination of mercury-containing waste from hospitals by the year 2005.

The MRI settlement is among numerous actions EPA-New England has taken to investigate and mitigate potential impacts from the prevalence of trash incinerators in the Greater Lawrence/Merrimack Valley region. Those efforts include a grant to collect existing health data by the Boston-based John Snow Institute, an air risk screening project to identify and evaluate air pollution sources in the Greater Lawrence area and a collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to study respiratory disease in the region.