Waste management plan irks residents

A huge medical waste management company under investigation out west has Mott Haven residents nervous, as it requests a permit to store hazardous waste in its Port Morris plant.

Stericycle's Port Morris facility at East 138th St. and Locust Avenue.
Stericycle’s Port Morris facility at East 138th St. and Locust Avenue.

Medical waste giant applying for new permit

The country’s biggest medical waste management company is seeking permission to store hazardous waste for short periods at its Port Morris site, while facing criminal charges that a facility it operates in Utah is fouling the air and endangering the health of nearby residents.

Illinois-based Stericycle Inc. has asked New York State’s environmental conservation department to renew its permit to operate the 16,400 square foot medical waste transfer facility it has run at the corner of East 138th St. and Locust Avenue since 1999, and to modify the “waste stream that the facility may process at the site.”

Last week Utah’s governor launched three investigations into alleged misconduct at Stericycle’s facility near Salt Lake City. Authorities there are looking into whether the company has violated the conditions of its regulatory permits and endangered workers at the site by ignoring occupational health and safety standards.

Last year Utah officials levied fines against the company for emitting dangerous levels of dioxin and other toxins, and required it install round-the-clock emissions monitors, along with other compliance measures.

But a spokeswoman for Stericycle, Jennifer Koenig, said the Port Morris site is vastly different from the one in Utah. Unlike the waste treatment plant in Utah, she said, the Port Morris facility is and will remain a waste transfer station that transports used medical supplies such as syringes and needles and does not treat waste.

The modification, said Koenig, would allow the plant to dispose of x-ray equipment used by some dentists.

Members of Community Board 1 worried at a Sept. 25 meeting that any emissions from the Port Morris plant could make the South Bronx’s air pollution problem worse and sicken the area’s most vulnerable.

“I’m thinking about my 20 month-old baby,” said board member Monxo Lopez.

“We’re all worried about our children,” said another board member, Michael Brady.

Although the facility is located in an area zoned for heavy industry in Port Morris’ waterfront warren of warehouses and factories, it is just two blocks from private residences and three blocks from the South Bronx School of International Cultures and the Arts.

In a two-page outline of the plan that Stericycle sent the board, the company notes that any changes would not result in increased truck traffic or noise. In addition, it says it is not seeking to expand its Port Morris operation and promises that groundwater will not be affected.

District Manager Cedric Loftin told board members he received a letter from Stericycle in July informing him it wanted to hold a public meeting at the Marriott on Manhattan’s Upper East Side during the last week in August to announce its modification plans. Anticipating a low turnout, Loftin said he urged the company to postpone the meeting to the fall and move it to a location convenient for Mott Haven residents.

The public meeting has been rescheduled for Oct. 7 at 6 p.m. at Hostos Community College.

Until 2011, Stericycle operated another South Bronx medical waste facility in addition to the Port Morris building, but the Dept. of Justice forced it to sell its plant on the East River waterfront in Hunts Point to a competitor, arguing that owning two plants a few miles apart gave it a monopoly.

The story was updated on Sept. 30 to include comments by Stericycle Inc. 

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