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Taking it to the streets - Residents say no to medical waste station

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Opponents of a medical waste transfer station have taken to the street, protesting the potential siting of the facility on a Canarsie byway. Led by City Councilmember Charles Barron, the group stationed themselves outside 100-02 Farragut Road to dramatize the impact that putting such a facility there would have on the local community. “We say no,” the group chanted, repeating the three words over and over again for emphasis. Pointing out the food processing facility across the street, and the private houses just a block away, the protesters insisted that the plan would impact nearby residents as well as the community at large because of the potentially hazardous nature of the materials being transported as well as because of the traffic it could create. “Right across the street, there’s a food factory, chicken is being transported in and out, and you’re going to bring in medical waste,” raged Barron. “You have a residential district a block away and a senior citizens center across the tracks. We have trains coming in and out of here. This is insane. It’s not going to happen.” The medical waste transfer station is proposed by Citiwaste Medical Waste Disposal, a division of CMW Industries which runs an ambulette service out of the site. While the company has asked to be allowed to keep tractor trailers containing medical waste at the location for as long as one to two weeks, it has indicated that, eventually, it hopes to fill two tractor trailers a day. Nonetheless, Gershon Klein, the company’s owner, has insisted repeatedly that it would not negatively affect the neighborhood. “We’re not treating waste,” he had told a group gathered a week earlier for a public hearing on the matter. “It’s no different than if we had a grocery store and were getting boxes.” The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) must give Citiwaste a permit to run the facility, and it is the goal of the protesters to convince the agency not to issue that permit. Citiwaste is going through the required public notification and hearing process. There are currently three medical waste transfer stations in New York City – one in Staten Island and two in the Bronx, “in Black and Latino districts,” said Barron. Barron aide, Joy Simmons, had earlier contended that siting the facility in Canarsie would be a “classic case of environmental racism and environmental classism.” “We are saying to DEC, we need their application to be denied,” Barron noted. “We will stop this. We are not going to be anybody’s dumping ground. We have a right to have a safe environment. We demand environmental justice. We don’t even want you to put this in anybody else’s back yard.” A major concern, remarked South Canarsie Civic Association (SCCA) President Mary Ann Sallustro, is what would be transported. “We don’t know what’s in the boxes,” she stressed. She also said there was concern because of the proximity of the site to the local fire station, as well as to the 69th Precinct station house. “How do we know what we are going to be exposed to,” added Avenue L Merchants Association President Mercedes Narcisse. Narcisse said that she was afraid that rats and mice living near the tracks could gnaw through the boxes of medical waste that would be unloaded from vans and loaded into a tractor trailer at the site, and possibly facilitate the spread of contaminants contained within. “We say no today, we say no tomorrow, not here, ever,” Narcisse added. A key, stressed local activist Harvey Clarke, is making sure that the process by which such facilities are permitted works for the community. “If we don’t work on the process,” he warned, “we are going to have the same problem all over again.” In fact, while DEC must approve the facility, and while public notice is required, the community board has no say in the matter. At Community Board 18’s Jan. 16th meeting, the board’s district manager, Dorothy Turano, said the matter is “not in the board’s purview.” The only public officials, she went on, who might be able to join opponents’ battle are state lawmakers. The only “real legitimate complaint,” about the facility, according to Turano, is opponents’ concern about traffic. Turano expressed faith in the state agency. “They will never [grant a permit] to anything dangerous to the community,” she said. Turano said she met with DEC officials about the facility and advised them that the proposed trailer should not stay on the site for more than 24 hours. Narcisse – also a board member — asked the board to support those who are opposed to the facility. “We need to fight this as one,” she said. However, the board took no action on the matter. If the plan goes through, Citiwaste, which is a licensed regulated medical waste transporter, would utilize approximately 1,500 square feet within the existing garage area of the building as a regulated medical waste transfer station. Currently, Citiwaste transports the medical waste it collects to a facility in the Bronx. Under this arrangement, medical waste brought to the property in cargo vans or box trucks would be stored inside a 40-foot tractor trailer container, which would be taken away when filled. Gary Buiso contributed reporting to this story.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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