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Charlotte Area News

Matthews Incinerator Gets EPA Approval

A controversial incinerator in Matthews has been given federal clearance to keep burning medical waste for another five years. But the permit does not end the efforts of neighbors to have the incinerator shut down. People who live near the incinerator have wanted it closed ever since it was built in 1988. But Catherine Mitchell says they also knew it was likely the incinerator would get this latest five-year operating permit from the EPA. "At this point they are technically in compliance, so we anticipated the permit would be issued," says Mitchell, who chairs a Matthews-based nonprofit called Citizens for a Healthy Environment. "What we're working on at this time is more long-range and we're just hoping to eventually shut the facility down." The incinerator is currently in compliance, but the EPA has also said the current pollution limits are unsafe. Stricter federal rules will take effect in 2014. The state of North Carolina has decided to require compliance by 2013. And Mecklenburg County is pressing for an even earlier deadline of 2012. Officials from BMWNC, which operates the incinerator, say it will take longer to install the upgrades and they're still hoping for a 2014 deadline. Matthews residents wonder why the company would want any delay, if the EPA has already said the current amount of heavy metals and other toxins coming from the incinerator is dangerous. "We are working towards that goal everyday," says Don Nuss, director of environmental health and safety compliance for BMWNC's parent company. "The EPA has given us until 2014 to reach that goal. We are doing things right now to enhance our facility so we can meet those guidelines down the road." Some of those enhancements were prompted by a surprise visit of Mecklenburg County Air Quality inspectors back in March. They found smoke and bad smells coming out of the incinerator. It would be six months before inspectors were confident the incinerator was consistently operating in compliance. The focus now turns to whether Mecklenburg County can legally require BMWNC to meet the new EPA pollution rules by 2012 - and whether BMWNC will try to appeal the decision.