Hospital’s power source unsafe, residents declare

Mike Cherney

Dozens of Evanston residents held a rally last week demanding that Evanston Northwestern Hospital speed up its plans to dismantle a medical waste incinerator that has been providing some of the hospital’s power for the past 15 years.

Residents say the incinerator, which burns plastics, is releasing harmful chemicals into the surrounding atmosphere. The hospital has pledged to decommission the incinerator within the next year, but residents want it to happen sooner.

“Many hospitals have sufficiently closed (incinerators) within 10 weeks,” said Amy Kipfer, an Evanston schoolteacher who was at the rally. “They’ve known about this for years.”

But hospital officials said it would take at least a year to safely replace the incinerator.

“We recognize some residents are concerned about the impact of incinerator emissions on health,” said Ray Grady, president of Evanston Hospital, in a statement last week. “However, there is no evidence that at any time in the 15-year life of the current incinerator that we have been out of compliance with safety standards”

Most medical waste incinerators around the country have shut down. The number has dwindled from 6,000 in 1988 to 80 today. Illinois has 11 incinerators, the most of any state, Kipfer said.