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County pressures Matthews incinerator to clean up emissions

The only medical waste incinerator in Mecklenburg County is now getting pressure from county commissioners to clean up its emissions faster than previously planned. The EPA has already tightened the rules for mercury, sulfur dioxide and other toxic chemicals that escape the smoke stacks of medical waste incinerators. But existing facilities like the one in Matthews have until 2014 to comply with the stricter guidelines. Tuesday night, Mecklenburg County Commissioners will consider a resolution urging the state to speed up that deadline and require the Matthews incinerator to comply in 2012. Mecklenburg County Air Quality director Don Willard says an unusual number of comments from the public led him to endorse the resolution. "We received around 88 comments from either individuals or entities," says Willard. "We typically permit people and get no comments, so it is a good bit." Willard says the county also received a couple of petitions with 100 names on each. Most of the comments were either opposed to the incinerator or asked that it be forced to improve its emissions as a condition of renewing its air quality permit with Mecklenburg County. That renewal is now pending, but Willard says the county needs approval from state air quality regulators to require an earlier deadline. Meanwhile, Willard says the existing air quality standards are strong enough to protect the public health. He says the Matthews incinerator meets those standards. A representative from Healthcare Waste Solutions, which owns the incinerator, says it will take significant time and money to bring the facility up to the new EPA standard, but the company does expect to comply by the 2014 deadline.