Steam-Cleaned Suit

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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, locals celebrated their victory. But the party may have been premature.

Now an agreement between BFI and the state environmental agency gives the neighborhood a tough choice: Accept a new 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 recent public meeting, officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation explained the terms of 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 agreement, if residents file suit against the plant, the state will allow BFI to reapply for its incinerator permit. But even if the company seeks a new permit, says Mary Ellen Kris, DEC Region II administrator, the agency is committed to preventing BFI from operating another incinerator at that site.

Neighborhood activists don’t know if they’ll sue. “[We’re] not against autoclave [sterilizers],” says Frances Sturim of the Bronx Clean Air Coalition. “They’re safer than incinerators. 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 emissions violations, fund an environmental impact statement and spend $200,000 on environmentally beneficial projects, such as asthma education and recycling.

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