CHICAGO— Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today called on the 11 hospitals across the state that still burn medical waste to voluntarily shut down their incinerators. For those that don’t comply, the Governor will seek legislation during the fall veto session banning all hospital incinerators. He also instructed the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to work with the hospitals on implementing cleaner disposal methods.
Today’s action comes in response to growing concerns raised by communities near the incinerators and emerging scientific data about hazardous health effects from exposure to toxic medical waste incinerator emissions. Incinerators emit mercury and dioxins, which have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems.
"Now that new technology and scientific knowledge provide alternatives to burning medical waste, we’ve got to find better ways to dispose of the waste from our hospitals. The potential health risks to communities like Evanston that are exposed to an incinerator’s emissions are too great to ignore. That’s why I will push for a statewide ban on these facilities during the fall veto session," said Governor Blagojevich. "The State stands ready to offer help and guidance to hospitals that voluntarily shut down their incinerators and transition to the cleaner and safer disposal options that are now available."
Currently, nine medical waste incinerators are in operation at hospitals throughout the state: Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Advocate Good Samaritan in Downers Grove, Hinsdale Hospital in Hinsdale, St. Mary’s Good Samaritan in Mt. Vernon, St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Memorial Hospital in Belleville, Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Illiana Health Clinic in Danville. Two others – Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville and Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park – have been temporarily shut down by the IEPA for repeated violations.
The Governor was joined today by Jack Darin, the Executive Director of the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, as well as state Senator Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), both of whom have been active in the effort to close the Evanston Hospital medical waste incinerator. A vote on the Evanston incinerator is expected tonight at the City Council meeting.
“Governor Blagojevich’s proposal will make Illinois communities safer by eliminating unnecessary pollution of our air and water with mercury, dioxin, and other harmful toxins. We applaud his effort to work with Illinois hospitals to eliminate this health threat from Illinois,” said Darin.
“I support the Governor’s call to close the Evanston Hospital medical incinerator immediately and to more aggressively pursue steps in other communities which will protect area residents from potential environmental hazards,” said Schoenberg, who has agreed to sponsor the Governor’s reform package in the November veto session.
Federal emission standards for medical waste incinerators adopted by Illinois in 2000 resulted in the shutdown of 99 incinerators across the state and a 97 percent decrease in toxic air emissions. Those remaining either upgraded or retrofitted equipment to meet the stricter standards. Since the implementation of the 2000 rules, the number of hospital incinerators across the country has been dramatically reduced from 6,000 to under 100.
"We’re eager to work with hospitals to reduce waste and implement safer disposal methods that will not pose health risks to nearby residents," said Illinois EPA Director Renee Cipriano.
The IEPA will work with hospitals to find viable, cost-effective alternatives to on-site incineration. The agency will report on what is being done by hospitals in other states, including technological innovations in the sterilization and decontamination of infectious waste. The IEPA will also expedite any permitting that may be necessary for hospitals that rely on their incinerators for a portion of their heating. The agency plans to recommend ways that the hospitals can save on costs for disposal of common hospital trash by reducing the waste stream and recycling.
If the General Assembly fails to take action on the proposed hospital incinerator ban during the veto session, the Governor indicated he will ask the IEPA to develop tighter oversight rules, including more frequent inspections and reporting requirements.