BALTIMORE (AP) — A medical waste processing company has pleaded guilty to dozens of environment-related charges and agreed to pay $1.75 million in fines after state prosecutors in Maryland accused a south Baltimore incineration plant owned by the firm of exposing the public to biohazardous material.
The waste comes from hospitals, laboratories and other medical settings. It’s supposed to be burned into ash before being transported to landfills, a process that prevents disease transmission, state officials said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the settlement agreement involving the nation’s largest medical waste incinerator.
The fine incurred by Curtis Bay Energy is among the highest environmental penalties imposed in Maryland’s history. It includes funding for pollution mitigation efforts in south Baltimore’s Curtis Bay neighborhood — a community that has long suffered from environmental degradation thanks to a concentration of industrial facilities situated along the Patapsco River.
The company, which changed ownership after the Maryland Attorney General’s Office launched its investigation in 2019, repeatedly overloaded its incinerators and failed to sufficiently burn medical waste before sending it to landfills, according to prosecutors. Witnesses provided photographs from the site showing substantial amounts of unburned medical waste, including surgical gloves, medical supplies and bedding, according to court documents.
On one occasion, investigators followed a load of waste headed for a landfill in Virginia and watched as it “leaked fluid the entire trip and covered the agents’ cars and windshields with an unknown substance,” prosecutors wrote.
“The persistent, improper treatment of special medical waste created a clear and obvious threat to public health,” said Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown, noting that the violations began before the COVID-19 pandemic and continued until the company realized it was under investigation in 2020. “It was a crime.”
Kelly Love, a spokesperson for Curtis Bay Energy, said the company “has fully cooperated with the state of Maryland’s investigation into past violations committed by employees under prior ownership and management.”
“Curtis Bay Energy remains committed to increasing its investment for preventative maintenance and workforce training and to honor its place in the community and region,” she said in a statement.
The company will pay $1 million to the Maryland Clean Water Fund and an additional $750,000 to support environmental cleanup projects in and around Curtis Bay, according to the settlement agreement, which was signed Aug. 18.
In addition to evidence of unburned medical waste, investigators found the company had knowingly installed an illegal pump that was discharging wastewater onto an adjacent property. Prosecutors said plant employees tried to conceal the illegal discharge by disconnecting the pump when environmental inspectors arrived on-site.
The company pleaded guilty to 40 counts, including numerous violations of its state-issued refuse disposal permit. Officials said the plant’s former director of operations also pleaded guilty in the case, and charges against its former manager are still pending.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said the settlement is an important step toward acknowledging a legacy of environmental injustice plaguing underserved communities on the Curtis Bay peninsula.
“Curtis Bay here in south Baltimore is one of many neighborhoods in the city that have faced decades of neglect and disinvestment, ” he said at Tuesday’s news conference, which was held outside the plant entrance. “Today … is a win for the environmental justice movement because it proves these outcomes are possible.”