An Illinois company has chosen Michigan City for an infectious waste processing facility that would handle up to 55,000 pounds of blood and contaminated medical products a day.
The company, Stericycle Inc. of Rolling Meadows, Ill., is awaiting a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. If the permit is granted, the facility likely will be built on four acres of land on Anchor Road in the South Lake Michigan Industrial Park.
The plant could be in operation as early as late spring, said Stericycle Vice President Linda Lee.
Currently, most medical waste is incinerated. Stericycle's goal is to process that material so that it can be recycled instead, Lee said.
The Michigan City plant would accept blood products, as well as materials such as needles, syringes, bags, gowns, gloves and masks. The items would be disinfected by heat and ground at the plant. The material could then be recycled into plastic or used for fuel as a coal substitute.
The plant would not accept radioactive or chemical materials, anatomical waste or laboratory animals.
The proposed facility has already gotten a nod from city officials, who said company officials left them with the impression last year that their process is on the cutting edge of new technology.
“Medical waste, whatever you want to call it, raises a red flag,” Mayor Robert Behler said. “But (Stericycle’s technique) seems to be a much safer alternative than incineration.”
“It’s all self-contained, all state of the art,” said city Plan Director John Pugh. “From our perspective, it would be just another building in the industrial park, where there are many other buildings of that type.”
But others voiced concerns. Tom Anderson of the Save the Dunes Council noted that Stericycle has just one other facility, in West Memphis, Ark., and wondered whether the company’s processes had been adequately tested.
He also questioned why they company was drawn to Michigan City, where the LaPorte County landfill nearby accepts a higher percentage of out-of-state waste than most of the other landfills in the state.
“Why are we the target, especially given our history of being a repository for out-of-state dumping?” Anderson asked. “Is it because Michigan City has no understanding or oversight of these issues? What will be the detriment to the city when it is known as the ‘Turn left at the dump’ area?”
Lee said Stericycle was steered to the area by state economic development officials, who apparently want to focus growth on regions that have lost jobs recently. She said officials indicated the company could tap into economic incentive programs and low-finance, small-business loans more easily in the northern part of the state.
“We’re not looking for handouts or anything, but we’re looking for areas with economic needs as well as economic opportunity,” she said.
Anderson also criticized city officials for not making the proposed facility public before last week, when a legal notice appeared in The News-Dispatch. “Where are our public officials? Apparently our city officials knew about this for a year without making any mention of this,” he said.
Behler denied that the city had kept the proposed facility a secret. Many companies express interest in locating in Michigan City, he said, but their plans are not publicized until they are firm. “The city hasn’t been hiding anything,” he said.
Property owners near the proposed facility would be notified before the plant was built, Behler said. He also said company officials agreed to conduct meetings to explain the workings of the plant to the public.
“Certainly we’re not about to go ahead with anything that would pose a danger to the public,” Behler said. “We welcome new businesses, but we’re not at the point where we will accept anything to the detriment of the public.”
The IDEM permit application, on file at the Michigan City Public Library, indicates that Stericycle has not been charged with any violations of state or federal environmental laws within the past five years.
Lee said the company has been “very well received” by many environmental groups. “Usually the stuff gets burnt up,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is be an alternative to incineration.”
She said the facility is completely enclosed and that no waste would be stored at the site. “It’s a very clean, high-tech facility,” she said.
Although Stericycle currently operates just one other plant, Lee indicated that the company is expanding aggressively. It has a permit for a Kentucky facility and is seeking permits for proposed facilities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. In addition, several other plants are planned for the East and West coasts. “It’s our goal to have a facility in every state,” Lee said.
Lee said Stericycle is the only company of its type that recycles medical waste. Other waste disposal companies incinerate medical waste, she said. She predicted that as more environmental regulations are enacted in the coming years, demand for Stericycle's services will increase.
IDEM is accepting public comments on the proposed facility until Feb. 17. All written comments will be considered before a decision on a permit is made, according to Tim Method, assistant commissioner of Solid and Hazardous Waste Management.
Comments should be sent to Jerome Rud, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, 105 S. Meridian St., P.O. Box 6015, Indianapolis, IN 46206-6015.
The permit application, detailing various technical aspects of the facility, is available for review at the reference desk of the Michigan City Public Library.