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Controversial Matthews Incinerator Shuts Down

A medical waste incinerator that has plagued Matthews residents for decades has been shut down. Its owners were on the hook to spend millions on upgrades to meet new air quality standards by next year. They've chosen to decommission the incinerator instead. Sometime in the last 20 years, Judy Drake stopped hanging her laundry out to dry. She lives about 1,000 feet from the medical waste incinerator in Matthews. The stench and soot from the smokestack would ruin her linens. "You know there would be black stuff on it and you could take and rewash them and it would not come out," says Drake. On May 11th, the incinerator's owners notified county authorities they had pulled the plug and would decommission the site. Impending air quality regulations would have required millions of dollars in upgrades. Mecklenburg County successfully petitioned to impose the rules two years ahead of the federal deadline. Healthcare Waste Solutions - the incinerator's most recent owner - is in the process of merging with larger competitor Stericycle, but the deal is contingent on getting rid of the incinerator. The facility was transferred to a holding company as a temporary step. No sale has been arranged and that's fine with Matthews resident Catherine Mitchell. She heads "Citizens for a Healthy Environment," which organized specifically to get the incinerator closed. "That's great news for our organization, but what we have to be concerned about now is cleanup," says Mitchell. State regulators will over see the decommissioning process. Down the road, Judy Drake ponders the possibility of letting her laundry air dry again. "I'll have to go buy some clothes pins," she chuckles. "I gave up on that a long time ago." There are fewer than 60 medical waste incinerators still operating in the U.S. Many, like the Matthews facility, have closed because of increasing regulation. .