A waste facility located in Marion County is bringing income into the area by burning medical waste, including medical waste from out of state.

The business is an energy-from-waste (EFW) facility located in Brooks just off Interstate 5. One of several facilities overseen by Marion County Environmental Services department, it is privately owned and operated by Covanta Marion, Inc. In addition to processing about 550 tons of garbage each day, (about 90% of the county’s garbage,) Covanta also serves as the only location in Oregon approved to accept medical waste for decontamination and destruction.

In Fiscal Year 2014-2015, Marion County received $67,000 in revenue for processing out-of-state medical waste, according to Jolene Kelley, Public Information Officer for Marion County. The waste came from various locations in Washington state and was transported by trailers.

Both the Washington Department of Ecology and Washington State Department of Health regulate and inspect the transport of medical waste in Washington. In Oregon, four state agencies  regulate the process: The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Health Services, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Marion County receives income from the Washington state’s medical waste not only for Marion County’s receipt of it, but also from income gained from burning it for energy.

Like other burning that occurs at the Covanta facility, medical waste is incinerated at temperatures reaching 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This process boils water, which generates steam which, in turn, drives turbines that generate electrical power. By burning trash, including medical waste, the Covanta plant generates about 13 Megawatts of electricity annually, enough to provide power for a city the size of Woodburn every year.

Using Energy-from-Waste facilities is the environmentally-responsible and preferred method of managing medical waste, Kelley says, because it reduces the volume of waste, kills pathogens, and also produces energy.

“As would be expected,” says Marion County, “the [EFW] facility performs extensive air and ash quality monitoring in compliance with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To date, its environmental compliance record has been exceptional.”

The emissions from the facility are dramatically below the established limits, Kelley adds, usually at 60-90% or more below the required limit as set by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “Marion County’s primary responsibility is to provide safe, sanitary disposal of solid waste (including medical waste) for county residents,” she says.

The fee to “tip” medical waste at Covanta is significantly higher for out-of-state sources. After approved rate increases take effect, the county will charge $87.45/ton for In-County medical waste, but ask $400/ton for that waste coming from Out-of-County.

There is a current proposal to expand the medical waste program to accept additional waste from Washington and potentially from California. Kelley says Marion County commissioners will formally consider the proposal toward the end of the month.