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St David’s residents feel incinerator is being ‘dumped’ on them

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The site proposed by MediWaste on industrially zoned land at Wallers Point Road in Southside (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A packed meeting of St David’s islanders vowed to fight the construction of an incinerator plant planned at Southside to dispose of the island‘s medical waste.

A forum of more than 100 residents last night heard their area had been treated as a “dumping ground” for decades.

They demanded to know how work was approved for a company to start building without the community’s consultation.

But Donte Hunt, chief executive of the firm MediWaste, insisted approval had been granted with plans for the facility officially gazetted.

Geoff Smith, a regulator with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said everything done so far complied with the island’s regulations.

Plans to launch the service were reported in March by The Royal Gazette.

The company got the green light to take over from the Department of Health in disposing of waste from services ranging from hospitals to tattoo parlours and veterinary clinics.

An application went before the planning department in September to use industrially zoned land at Waller’s Point in Southside, and was approved that month after a planning officer recommended the project be cleared.

A company setting up shop on Southside to handle the island’s medical waste faced a sceptical and occasionally hostile audience from St David’ residents (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Many at the often heated forum asked why the disposal of medical waste could not remain at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital instead of being moved to the East End.

But last night the Bermuda Hospitals Board told the Gazette that KEMH had never been an appropriate location to burn the waste – which ranges from soiled bandages to human tissue and “sharps” such as hypodermic needles.

Mr Smith outlined the technical details of the facility, which will have dual incinerators – with the capacity to dispose of pets as well as medical waste.

He added there had been no objections filed when notice of the proposal went in the Official Gazette in 2020 – with many in the audience responding they had never known about it.

Mr Smith said an analysis by Lakes Environmental Ltd in the UK found the proposal lay well within Bermuda’s regulated guidelines.

He said continuous monitoring of the plant’s emissions and the soil nearby was required, with authorities able to slap the facility with an emission control order or an outright stop order.

Mr Smith said KEMH dealt with nearly 100 tons of biohazardous waste last year, while 40 to 80 tons of chemically hazardous pharmaceutical waste had to be shipped each year to the US for incineration.

Mr Hunt told the forum the hospital wanted to get out of handling disposal, while shipping waste elsewhere was increasingly unpopular.

“We have to have a solution on this island,” he said.

“Shipping medical waste overseas is something we can do today, but it may not be something we can do tomorrow.”

Mr Hunt said his business had pitched the idea to BHB from 2018 before receiving a long-term contract from the hospital to handle the waste.

“By taking over medical waste from BHB, we assume the role of national medical waste provider, because everything went to BHB.”

Bermuda Hospitals Board on handling of waste disposal

Medical waste is no longer being managed at the island’s hospital, BHB told the Gazette last night.

A spokeswoman said the BHB had been left with no choice because of the lack of a specialist service to dispose of material from healthcare providers.

“In 2013, we starting using steriliser-macerator equipment, but this equipment is now at the end of its useful life.

“Outsourcing to MediWaste means our medical waste is being managed by specialists in the area and we do not have to invest in new equipment, pay for costly maintenance and repairs, nor enter into alternative overseas contracts when our equipment fails.

“It has never been optimal to have a waste management facility on a functioning hospital site, and when MediWaste was licensed to deliver medical waste management services in Bermuda earlier this year, this solution meant our waste could be safely managed in a way that was more cost-effective and helped us focus on the delivery of patient care.”

But when audience members asked about the length of the contract, Mr Hunt said he was not prepared to divulge private business information.

He called the plant an “eco-friendly recycling facility” with an external noise level of 20 decibels – comparable to the “rustling of leaves” – and said it would not release odours, with emissions on the order of “a bike driving past you”.

Ash, the final product, would be sent to the Tynes Bay facility to go into cinder blocks for land reclamation.

An attendee said residents had been subjected to “smoke and mirrors”, without a chance to give feedback.

Another insisted the proposal still required final sign-off by the Department of Planning and residents could still object.

One resident who pushed for the meeting said St David’s had been the island’s “sacrificial lamb” for too long.

He pointed to the harmful legacy of the US burning toxic waste on Southside when the area was a US military base.

“You’re not going to come down here and push this thing on us,” he added, warning that St David’s islanders “have always been fighters”.

The same resident could be seen gathering signatures on a petition against the incinerator later in the meeting.

Mr Hunt said he had no “vendetta” against St David’s – but that neither Tynes Bay nor the hospital had viable locations.

Asked why MediWaste had not come to the community, Mr Hunt insisted: “That’s not for us to do. Our responsibility is to ensure we don’t have emissions.”

He said he could not have announced the company’s plans ahead of securing official clearance.

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Social Development and Seniors, attended the meeting with Progressive Labour Party MP Lovitta Foggo. She told the forum that she had pushed for the meeting after residents spoke up.

Elizabeth Deacon, a One Bermuda Alliance candidate for St George’s, said she was “horrified this is happening” to an area with “a history of being dumped on”.

“A lot of the anger in this room is because it feels like this is the last straw,” she said.

A Tynes Bay employee who said she was a resident in the area said the facility’s emissions appeared “far less than anything Belco can produce”.

She added: “It just has not been well explained.”

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Published November 02, 2022 at 9:55 am (Updated November 02, 2022 at 9:55 am)

St David’s residents feel incinerator is being ‘dumped’ on them

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