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When Browning Ferris Industries closed its South Bronx medical waste incinerator in June 1997, bowing to four years of community pressure, residents celebrated their victory. It may have been too soon. Now an agreement between BFI and the state environmental agency gives the neighborhood a tough choice: Accept a waste sterilizing plant or face the incinerator’s return.

The huge waste management company wants to turn its old incinerator, which amassed more than 440 emissions violations since 1993, into a plant to steam-sterilize medical waste.

At a Wednesday public meeting, the state Department of Environmental Conservation explained a consent order, signed by the agency, BFI and its Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center sponsor. The company promises to remove its incinerating equipment, as long as its new sterilizing permit is approved. According to the terms of the agreement, if residents do file suit, the state will allow BFI to reapply for its incinerator permit.

Neighborhood activists don’t know if they’ll sue. “[We’re] not against autoclaves, they’re safer than incinerators,” said Frances Sturm of the Bronx Clean Air Coalition. “It’s BFI’s record in the country and around the world that’s disgusting.”

Other provisions of the consent decree call for BFI to pay the state $50,000 for past violations, fund an Environmental Impact Statement and spend $200,000 on environmental benefit projects, such as asthma education and recycling programs.

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