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Medical waste treatment site proposal riles residents

Proponents say the treated material would be sterilized and hauled to Okeechobee County.

By TERRI BRYCE REEVES, Times Correspondent
Published January 16, 2008


The threat of falling property values. Concerns about disease. The fear of exploding autoclaves.

The Pinellas County examiner's board heard an earful Thursday from about two dozen residents, armed with petitions, who voiced their objections to a proposed biomedical waste treatment facility near their neighborhoods.

"We're not going to welcome it," Lee Norins told county officials. "Put it where it belongs: in an industrial area where no variance is needed."

Advanced Medical Disposal's treatment facility would be on an industrial street just north of Ulmerton Road at the end of 34th Way N near Largo. The business would be within 130 feet of the nearest home.

That's too close, say those from the surrounding Tall Pines, Fairway Village and Coral Heights neighborhoods.

"To plunk it in the middle of all of us I think is absolutely uncaring and unsafe," said Kathy Weinrich, a resident of Fairway Village, a 55-and-over mobile home park.

Barr Brothers Properties, which owns the property, is seeking a conditional use permit for the facility as well as a variance so that it can operate within a half-mile of a residential zone.

John Heath and Trey Heyward, owners of Accident/Trauma Scene Cleaners, have a contract to buy the property. They plan to install two 20-feet-long, 6-feet-wide industrial-sized autoclaves inside the 15,000-square-foot building. Trucks would transport medical waste such as used gowns, gauze pads, gloves and intravenous tubing in U.S. Department of Transportation-approved boxes.

"They would be sealed and opened only within the biomedical treatment facility," Heath said.

Needles would be accepted but processed at another facility. No tissue body parts would be treated there, he said.

The county really needs a biomedical treatment facility, according to Heath.

"The closest facility is now in Lakeland ," he said.

About 8,000 pounds of waste would be processed a day, said Todd Pressman, a land use consultant speaking on behalf of Heath and Heyward. The Pinellas County Health Department would monitor the facility once a week, he said.

There would be no incinerators, Pressman said. The autoclaves would use steam heated to nearly 300 degrees Fahrenheit to render the waste sterile.

The dry by-product of the process would be hauled to a landfill in Okeechobee County.

"There is no emission into the air at any time," he said. No chemicals, no smoke, no debris, no odors.

The only by-product other than the purified material would be water condensed from the steam, which would be discharged into the Largo sewer system.

"At that state, it is a sterilized liquid that is cleaner than many items that enter the sewer system," he said.

But neighbor Heather Morissette was concerned for her 10-year-old son.

"I have a son that has had two bone marrow transplants," she said. "He has an immune deficiency that makes him susceptible to everything under the sun. I don't want to have infectious waste sitting at the end of the street."

Jay Sewell, who brought a petition with 345 signatures from residents of Coral Heights , said property values would plunge.

"Biomedical waste - just the name would reduce the property values," she said.

Not an issue, Pressman said.

"Because everything is internalized, there cannot be any effect on property values other than whatever is already existing throughout the entire industrial warehouse park," he said.

Tall Pines resident Mindy Schreiner said she had a medical background and was familiar with autoclaving.

"It's a fairly safe procedure, but if it explodes I'm going to have a problem," she said. "I'm not going to have a house to live in."

Helen Prokopchuk said the ethnically diverse Coral Heights neighborhood was made mostly of renters on modest incomes. She said they were being relegated to second-class citizens.

"Just because we're poor doesn't mean that we need to be dumped on," she said. "If they can't put it in Feather Sound, then we don't want it in our neighborhood either."

But Heath said residents have nothing to fear: "We'll be the cleanest industrial business in the area."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at


What's next?

County staff members will make a recommendation on the project to the County Commission, which is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal at 6:30 p.m. March 18 in the assembly room on the fifth floor of the County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.


[Last modified January 16, 2008, 00:22:13]

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