That's why it is so very important to slow and eventually prevent the creation of dioxin locally. It is well-documented that incineration is the major cause of dioxin being created and released into the environment. Because there is a high concentration of plastic and PVC in medical waste, incineration of medical wastes is the number one method of transmitting dioxin into the environment.
The county's garbage incinerator in Brooks burned 880 tons of medical waste in 1996, averaging about 75 tons a month. 278 tons of the 1996 total was from Marion County; the remaining 500 tons of medical waste came from areas where folks are apparently smart enough not to soil their nest, so to speak.
The good news, if there is good news, is the total tonnage of medical waste at the burner has dropped to 30-40 tons per month in 1997, which, if continued, will bring in "only" about 400 tons this year. Less medical waste means less dioxin and less likelihood you or I will come in contact with it.
The bad news is the DSWM currently has the Council go-ahead to burn up to 5000 tons of medical waste per year. That is ten times the amount currently burned and to do that, it must displace locally generated municipal waste. All garbage incineration is unhealthy and unnecessary. Burning medical waste is the worst of both worlds.
Happily, there is more good news. The number of hospitals in Washington and Oregon participating in plastic recycling is increasing. This is evidently having an impact on the Brooks Burner. In addition, the American Public Health Association contributed to reducing the medical waste-stream by urging all health care facilities to explore ways to reduce or eliminate their use of PVC plastics.
This appears to be good news for Marion County residents, until one learns that the DSWM has now asked the Solid Waste Advisory Council to approve the importing of more out-ofcounty medical waste. This happened at the Council's May meeting. Remember that meeting? That was the one held recently without public scrutiny in which qualified applicants were ignored to fill council vacancies.
After considerable discussion, Rick Roemer, a member of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, moved that the Council not vote on the issue until more could be learned. Sheila Mcllrath, a Council member representing the public, suggested the director make available to Council members the article First, Do No Harm which was given to Director Sears and Chair John Shearer days before the meeting.
Lacking good information, the Council wisely decided to have a panel discussion with experts providing pros and cons regarding the burning of medical waste (see sidebar, this page).
Director Sears maintains that burning medical waste will add no more dioxins than the burning of regular solid waste. Here, Sears' own logic stands as one of the best arguments to stop all incineration of waste and thereby stop dispersing dioxin locally.
Unfortunately Sears' interest is not in the environment, nor the health of the populace living in the shadow of the incinerator, nor in the health of folks who will ingest produce contaminated by his garbage burner. He has his eye on the revenue, as medical waste brings two and a half times more cash ($160 vs. $67) per ton than ordinary garbage.
Mr. Sears recently told his Advisory Council that he hasn't been keeping track of the medical waste burning, but that it may have already displaced some of the in-county waste. This sounds familiar. When the county first imported garbage from outside the county ten years ago, this is the way they did it. Not a word about it until questioned. Then as now, it was downplayed.
Here is the primary question: Do we invite more of the disaster of dioxin into our community by watching our county turn its garbage burner into a medical waste incinerator?
Come to the meeting on August 12th.
Ellen Twist has been attending Marion County Solid Waste Management Advisory Council meetings for several years. She recently spent four months as 0bserver of the Council meeting for the League of Women Voters. She is a member of Audubon and Coastwatch.
Citizens Against Toxins (CAT) is a local organization that meets monthly in Salem to discuss the issues of livability and industrial toxins in our community. To be on the mailing list, contact David Schreiner, 393-4363, Carroll Johnston, 364-1394, or Ellen Twist, 363-7416.