Medical Waste is Making Us Sick!

The largest medical waste incinerator in Baltimore, Curtis Bay Energy, that was just fined $1.75M in October, is now being sued by the state environmental agency, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), to impose more fines on the company. On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, the Baltimore City Council had an informational hearing to discuss the problems associated with the incinerator and the effects on the Curtis Bay community. During the meeting, Johns Hopkins, a highly rated hospital and the largest private employer in Baltimore, stated that they would stop sending all but 1% of their waste to Curtis Bay Energy.

While all of these moves indicate that pressure and organizing from the community and non-governmental organizations is forcing government action, it is still just lip service compared to an actual solution. The suit coming from the state agency is apparently meant to “hold [Curtis Bay Energy] accountable through enforcement,” stating this as if this is a heroic moment, when in fact this should be the full-time job of the Maryland Department of Environment. It’s one which they haven’t been very good at doing in practice. Instead of the state measuring and enforcing environmental regulations, the fines and subsequent suit are the result of a multi-year investigation through the Attorney General’s Office.

Additionally, while the hearing may offer a place for community members, activists, and scientists to share their stories, Curtis Bay Energy did not even send representatives, and the words at the hearing offer no promises of real change. Central demands focused on urging local hospitals to stop sending their waste to the facility. This does not get to the core of the issue: waste will always be mishandled so long as profit and reducing costs are prioritized over health and safety. A representative of MedStar, a local hospital conglomerate, said it themselves in the hearing: “there is no scalable, global green solution at present.” In other words, they don’t offer an alternative.

The $1.75 million fine is just the cost of doing business to Curtis Bay Energy and these multi-million-dollar companies. While hearings and lawsuits give us a chance to organize ourselves, to solve the problem at its root we will have to break the barriers of a capitalist economy and collectively create solutions to first minimize, and then safely and sustainably handle and dispose of waste.