ecoRI March News Roundup

Medical Waste Cooked 24/7 in West Warwick

A proposed medical-waste-to-energy processing facility in West Warwick would operate around the clock, heating human blood, pathological waste and syringes to 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit (using a process called pyrolysis) to generate electricity. The net power generated would be sold to the regional power grid. Blood-powered Netflix, anyone?

The facility, proposed by MedRecycler-RI Inc., would be the first of its kind in America. The project still requires approval from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the state Department of Health.

Although the CEO of MedRecycler-RI says that the total annual emissions would be equal to the emissions from two cars, environmentalists say emissions from pyrolysis can contain cancer-causing compounds. New England Institute of Technology abuts the site, with 400 of its students living on campus near MedRecycler-RI’s proposed vent stack.

PFAS Is an Acronym You Should Get to Know Because it Never Goes Away

It’s nothing to LOL about; PFAS (short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are called “forever chemicals,” because once released into the environment they don’t break down, and, worse, they build up in human blood and organs. PFAS are linked to some nasty stuff like cancer.

And many of us Rhode Islanders could be unwittingly drinking them in their H2O.

In 2019, the Rhode Island Department of Health tested every major drinking-water supply in the state, plus the water in every school that had its own well.

Of the 132 sites tested, 48% tested positive for PFAS; 24% had PFAS levels above the recommended standard; 35% of the sites tested were schools; 43% of the schools tested had levels above the recommended level. Two bills before the General Assembly this session would take action on PFAS.

Brown Expels Fossil-Fuel Investments

The student-divestment movement reached its peak several years ago. And so, the early-March announcement from Brown University president Christina Paxson came as a surprise. Paxson said the school’s investment office has liquidated 90% of its investments in fossil-fuel companies, while the remainder will eventually be sold. The investment office oversees the university’s $4 billion endowment.

“The decision to halt investments in fossil fuel extraction companies reflects the view that, as the world shifts to sustainable energy sources, investments in fossil fuels carry too much long-term financial risk,” Paxson wrote in a March 4 letter.

Will Rhode Island Ever #ActOnClimate?

Maybe they’re feeling immune to sea-level rise up there on Smith Hill, but for the past two legislative sessions, no meaningful environmental bill has passed the General Assembly. All previous attempts to mandate the state’s emissions targets, going back a decade, have failed.

A new climate bill, championed by environmental groups as a top 2020 priority, received a slowdown signal during its initial hearing at the State House in March, even though supporters packed the hearing room and overflow room and waited up to four hours to testify.

The House bill makes the state emission-reduction targets legally binding. It ratchets up the state emission-reduction goal set in 2014 from 45% to 50% by 2035 and net-zero by 2050.

The prospects for the bill are murky. Like any bill, its fate lies with the speaker of the House.

Message in a Bottle (Bill)

Massachusetts is doing it. Even Connecticut and Maine are doing it. But Rhode Island has for decades resisted enacting a bottle bill — a take-back program for single-use bottles.

A bill presented to the Rhode Island House in March calls for a 10-cent deposit on all beverage containers, a deposit amount only used in Michigan and Oregon. The Conservation Law Foundation says the higher fee has led to a 90% redemption rate in those two states. If adopted in Rhode Island, an additional 15,000 tons of plastic containers will be diverted annually from the Central Landfill.

So why can’t Rhode Island do it? Two words: trade groups. They say the bill will pose an undue burden on businesses.

At a March 5 hearing, one lawmaker fretted that, if a 10-cent deposit fee is imposed, Rhode Islanders would drive to neighboring Connecticut to buy soda and bottled water, where the deposit fee is 5 cents. Doesn’t he know the old saw about Rhode Islanders never leaving Rhode Island?

For more detail on these stories, and to get the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org.