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Burnt out?


News Hits is stingy with kudos, but state Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township) deserves one for sponsoring a bill making it nearly impossible to incinerate medical waste in Michigan. It is likely to become law next year.

The bill requires the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to choose alternatives to medical incineration “that result in less pollution, impairment and destruction.” And if the DEQ finds that alternatives “do exist, it shall cease issuing permits for the incineration of medical waste.”

“The ultimate object is to move away from medical incineration in Michigan and move to safer alternatives to dispose of waste,” says Peters, who has worked on the bill for years.

Environmentalists oppose medical incineration, which burns waste at high temperatures and creates dioxin, a potent toxin. Green groups say a better and commonly used alternative is autoclaving, which disinfects medical waste with steam heat; the remains go into landfills.

“You are not creating new toxins with autoclaving as you do with incineration,” says Anna Holden, conservation committee co-chair of the Southeast Michigan Group of the Sierra Club.

The bill’s emissions standards are more stringent than federal law. This portion is directed specifically at the incinerator in Hamtramck — it is the only one left in the state.

“The (Hamtramck) facility will have to meet tougher standards, which will force it to find alternatives,” says Peters.

In 1995, there were 157 medical waste incinerators in Michigan and only 50 by 1998, according to Jerry Trautman, senior environmental engineer with the DEQ. The closures were due to public pressure and tough federal emissions standards.

Peters says the Hamtramck incinerator, which is owned by Michigan Waste Services and disposes about 25 tons of medical waste a day, will be given ample time to come into compliance or find an alternative method.

Michigan Waste Services plant manager Mark Cooper said the company had no comment on the bill.

Peters’ bill delights Rob Cedar, director of the Hamtramck Environmental Action Team, which has been trying to shut down the incinerator since 1994. “We have been fighting that monster so long,” says Cedar, “It’s so good to see that this has been taken on by the state.”

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or

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