Two private trash firms have used a D.C. government incinerator to burn infectious waste from hospitals outside the District, including a shipment of 100 drums of chemotherapy waste from as far away as Cincinnati, according to government and hospital officials and former employes of one of the firms.
District law permits the burning of infectious waste at the incinerator but restricts the burning to wastes generated in the city, to keep down the cost of running the $5.3 million facility and because of concerns about regulating the quantity of potentially hazardous material burned there. The incinerator has caused pollution problems, and the city has been fined for violating federal air quality standards.
The cost of using the District incinerator, at 3200 Benning Rd. NE, is $14 per ton. Private incinerators charge between $500 and $800 per ton, according to Joe Trofe, an incinerator supplier from Mount Laurel, N.J.
According to interviews with sanitation officials, former employes and clients, Eastern Chemical Waste Systems, a District firm, used the taxpayer-subsidized incinerator to dispose of hospital wastes brought in from elsewhere.
Mark Soresi, president of Eastern Chemical Waste Systems, said Thursday he had no knowledge of improper disposal. "We use a number of disposal facilities up and down the East Coast," he said. "I am aware of the regulations of the District of Columbia, and I'm confident they have been followed by our drivers."
A former driver for Eastern, who left the firm after a dispute with the owner, said that he hauled waste to the District incinerator from Virginia and Maryland.
"I would pick up from three hospitals in Baltimore, a lab in Columbia and one in Fairfax," said Bob Burt of Hyattsville. "I took it to Benning Road and I would write down hospital names from D.C. where we did pick up from . . . . I was told to do it by the boss. A man has to work."
Another District firm, Kenilworth Trash Co., hauled trash from Malcolm Grow Hospital at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to the city incinerator, according to findings of an Air Force investigation. Edmond M. Johnson, the president of the firm, could not be reached for comment, and his attorney on Friday declined to comment.
Base spokeswoman Lt. Linda Taylor said the office of special investigations of the Air Force and contracting officials last year began checking Kenilworth's contract to dispose of the base hospital's waste after the FBI and D.C. police began investigating the firm's waste hauling practices.
Officials of another Maryland hospital, Holy Cross, said that they did not authorize a document that Kenilworth presented to the Air Force hospital stating that Holy Cross would incinerate the Air Force hospital's waste. Stanley J. Nadonley, general counsel for Holy Cross, said the hospital does not burn wastes for other hospitals.
A criminal charge of forgery involving the document was brought against a Kenilworth employe and later dropped.
Richard Smith, chief of the D.C. Solid Waste Disposal Division, which runs the incinerator, said he was told in July by Maryland officials that Eastern was hauling infectious waste from a Baltimore hospital to the District incinerator. A month later, three former Eastern employes showed him truck logs and invoices and told him they hauled out-of-state wastes to the incinerator, Smith said.
Smith said he has received several "allegations" of out-of-state dumping by Kenilworth in the past year, but he would not give details. He said he instructed his employes in September to begin monitoring the two firms closely.
But Smith said he does not have the staff to investigate dumping problems. Truck drivers entering the incinerator are asked to list on a manifest where the trash originated, but Smith said it is impossible to check the information provided. Anne Hoey, acting chief of the D.C. Public Space Maintenance Administration, which oversees the incinerator, said it would be a health hazard for employes to "put on gloves and tear through" infectious waste to find evidence of its origin.
"I don't perceive it as a major problem in terms of amounts, because we know that the majority of the amounts we are handling are attributable to facilities in the District," Hoey said.
Smith said he tried to get local hospitals to put their names on infectious waste containers but was unsuccessful. After being told about dumping problems, Smith said he asked the D.C. solid waste permits division to begin inspecting the contents of trucks driving to the incinerator, but "they never got around to inspecting."
"We're trying to set up a system where we can investigate Eastern and Kenilworth," he said.
Hoey said her agency has worked with police on dumping problems, but she said past allegations "were after the fact . . . and some weren't that specific."
Richard Moreland, chief of the District's Bureau of Sanitation Services and Smith's boss, sent a memo in November to the permits division asking that all future hauling licenses be granted only after haulers produce copies of their contracts.
Under District law, it is illegal to dispose of out-of-state wastes at the incinerator. The law carries a maximum penalty of $300 and 10 days in jail.
Smith said he was told by one Eastern driver that he delivered "a one-time dumping of 100 barrels" of chemotherapy waste from a Cincinnati firm, Environmental Enterprises Inc. "I called Mr. Soresi, and he told me he didn't take it in," Smith said.
Gary Davis, vice president of Environmental Enterprises, said in an interview that his firm hired Eastern last year to haul one waste shipment. A May invoice shows that Eastern charged the Ohio firm $2,900 to haul 100 fiber drums from Cincinnati to the District in May.
Burt, the former Eastern driver, said he and other drivers were told to write "American Red Cross" or "Sibley Hospital" on incinerator manifests, no matter where the trash originated. Those institutions are in the District and are entitled to have their waste burned at the incinerator.
Soresi did not respond to questions about specific shipments, saying, "I'd like to keep my business relationships out of the newspaper."
District records for February through May 1985 show that Eastern hauled an average of 38 tons of infectious waste each month to the city incinerator.
Michele Blackwell, a spokeswoman for the D.C. chapter of the American Red Cross, confirmed that her organization has a contract with Eastern to haul its infectious waste.
Charles Pridmore, manager of plant operations for Sibley Memorial Hospital, said that Eastern frequently empties a small dumpster of red-bagged infectious waste and removes the waste from hospital premises for incineration.
David Watson, staff assistant to City Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), chairwoman of the Committee on Public Works, said Winter was told about the general problem of out-of-state dumping this past summer by an incinerator employe when she toured the facility.
"She thinks there should be stronger inspection, 24 hours a day," he said. Since learning of the problem, Winter has been trying to persuade fellow council members to raise the penalties for illegal trash disposal, he said.
Many hospitals in the metropolitan area operate their own incinerators to burn infectious and pathological wastes. Those without incinerators contract with private haulers.
Controversy has surrounded the Benning Road facility since its opening in 1972. Area residents opposed the incinerator because of fears of air pollution.
Despite spending $1.7 million to equip the incinerator with modern pollution control equipment, the incinerator became the biggest air polluter in the city. In 1984, the city agreed to pay a $500,000 fine for its frequent violations of federal air quality standards at the incinerator.
A city task force concluded in 1977 that some haulers had found ways to avoid paying fees to dispose of trash at the incinerator. The panel found that over a three-year period, the city lost nearly $100,000 because "zero weights" were recorded for many trash shipments. Executives of two trash firms said at the time that a city employe solicited a bribe in exchange for recording zero weights.