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County should limit burning of medical waste

It would be difficult to argue against the need for a state-approved medical waste incinerator for this area. After all, medical wastes _ hypodermic needles, bodily fluids, human tissue from hospitals, doctors and dentists and the like _ can be dangerous, and ordinary landfills and incinerators are not equipped to handle them properly. Medical wastes must be separated from regular garbage and destroyed in special chambers at constant, high temperatures. Besides, recent federal and state laws require unique handling, and people caught disposing of medical wastes improperly can be fined up to $2,500 a day.

Without special incinerators, medical facilities may be tempted to get rid of wastes surreptitiously, and that would endanger our entire community.

So the question before the Pasco County Commission tonight is not whether Bon-Bar Leasing Inc. should be allowed to burn bio-hazardous materials at its proposed new plant off SR 52 near Gowers Corner. Clearly, it or some other qualified company should.

The real question is whether the county has the authority to limit the amount to be burned to 800 pounds an hour. Again, the answer is clear: Yes, the county has that authority _ and commissioners, without question or hesitation, should exercise that control.

The facts surrounding the company's application for special zoning permits are indisputable. The county plainly approved a zoning exception for Bon-Bar based upon the Department of Environmental Regulation's permit that would allow Medical Waste Disposal Corp. to burn 800 pounds of medical wastes per hour. The DER later lowered that permit to 500 pounds per hour; but the county already had approved the first number, and that is obviously what should stand.

The logic of limiting the company to that amount is equally irrefutable. Bon-Bar has a measly 10 acres upon which to build its facility. That might be okay for one 500-pound capacity incinerator, a similar back-up unit and the small "10 by 12 storage shed" its vice president promised would be built there when he spoke at a public hearing in 1989.

But it is far too small to provide room for the 4,500-pound-per-hour facility he now says his company wants. There is not enough room for the number of transport trucks, storage buildings and incinerators such a mega-facility will need.

The implications of the company's new application are troubling indeed.

During the application process, company vice president Gary Resmondo said the 500-pound chambers would serve four counties. Now he wants to increase that to 4,500 pounds per hour. Does that mean the company plans to serve nine times four counties? Is Resmondo saying his company hopes to dispose of medical wastes from all Northern Florida _ right here in Pasco County?

That would mean transporting these dangerous materials over state and county roads for long distances, which increases the possibilities for spillage. It also may require storing the wastes for long periods (the state allows up to 30 days) on a relatively small piece of property that is in a flood-prone area.

This is unacceptable all the way around.

Bon-Bar's desperation to get going on a grand scale in what promises to be a lucrative business comes through loud and clear. Its attorney, Jerry Figurski, is even threatening to ask two commissioners to disqualify themselves from voting, simply because people they care about live in the vicinity of his client's proposed plant.

Mr. Figurski should be reminded that a public official's personal concern for constituents' well-being is not necessarily favoritism, but is actually the very premise for representative government. Such concern should be cause for celebration, not disqualification.

The commissioners' task tonight is relatively easy. All they have to do is uphold what their staff, the Zoning Board of Adjustment's original approval and their own good common sense tell them is right.

They should deny Bon-Bar Leasing's claim that the county gave the company the right to burn as much medical wastes as they like near Gower's Corner and stick to the truth _ that the county did indeed impose an 800-pound-an-hour limit from the start.