Fort Detrick considering new incinerator for burning medical waste
By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Frederick News-Post | Published: January 22, 2020
Note: This article has been corrected.
FREDERICK. Md. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Detrick may build a new incinerator to destroy medical waste.
Fort Detrick’s then-garrison commander, Col. Scott Halter, shut down the Army post's incinerators, which at the time burned both municipal and medical waste, in April 2018 due to the age of the incinerators and cost of maintenance. Since then, municipal waste has gone to the Frederick County waste transfer center, with medical waste going to Baltimore-based company Curtis Bay.
A new incinerator is one of the options Fort Detrick is considering, said Joe Gortva, chief of environmental office. No plans are set in stone at this point.
Another option could include continuing to send medical waste, such as needles or vials, to Curtis Bay.
The military campus is starting to create an environmental assessment, a document that will determine if a federal action could potentially cause environmental effects. The options will be considered in the environmental assessment.
Fort Detrick held a public meeting Tuesday to elicit input from the public and answer any questions. The public hearing allowed Fort Detrick officials and members of the Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee the environmental assessment, to put up posters with information about the process and medical waste incineration.
One of the reasons for bringing incineration back to Fort Detrick is operational security, said Col. Dexter Nunnally, garrison commander. Being able to burn medical waste on campus means the Army and its labs would have control of the material from use to destruction, he said.
Before it can be incinerated, all medical waste on Fort Detrick goes through a process called autoclaving, which sterilizes the waste using high-temperature and high-pressure steam. Autoclaving gets rid of biological material, such as bacteria, viruses and spores. But autoclaving does not get rid of sharp needle points or remove labels, Gortva said.
The point of incineration is to make it so that the information on the labels is destroyed and nothing can be re-engineered, Nunnally said. By doing it at Fort Detrick, the Army would have control of that process instead of having a private company do it.
If Fort Detrick were to decide to build a new incinerator, it would ideally be government-owned but contractor-operated, Nunnally said. The second next preferable option would be a contractor-owned and -operated incinerator.
The garrison would not want the incinerator to be owned and operated by the government because funding for Fort Detrick varies from year to year, and the garrison would not want a situation where the funding was not dedicated to keeping the incinerator running, he said.
The public meeting is just the beginning of the environmental assessment plan, said Gary Zolyak, the fort’s environmental law attorney.
‘We’re still studying all of our options,” Zolyak said.
The draft of the environmental assessment will likely be ready this summer, he said. All of the process will include regulatory oversight. If the incineration option is chosen, Fort Detrick will have to coordinate with the Maryland Department of Environment.
There will need to be installation and operating permits. The operating permit allows the post to use the incinerator and will set pollution limits.
And if the incinerator is built, it will require maximum achievable control technologies or MACT, Zolyak said.
“In a nutshell, MACT means state-of-the-art,” he said.
The public will still have a chance to comment even if people were not able to attend. Public comments will be accepted until Jan. 28.
It is good that Fort Detrick has a process for the public to learn more about what is being considered, said Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, Frederick County's health officer.
She has heard comments from residents that there are concerns about transparency and how quickly things are communicated, she said. She would like to see a system put in place that will allow the public to get timely reports, if the post decides to build the incinerator.
Even if Fort Detrick does decide to build an incinerator for medical waste, it is likely years away, Gortva said. He did not have a specific timeline, since several options are being considered, but he estimated that it would be years out, as the environmental assessment and bidding out a potential contract would take years.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Fort Detrick is not considering restarting the old incinerators and that the military campus will coordinate with the Maryland Department of Environment.