Pueblo of Nambe Gov. Philip Perez speaks at Thursday’s community meeting in at Pojoaque Middle School with EPA and Monarch Waste Technologies. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Kevin Yearout, co-founder and principal of Monarch Waste Technologies, far right, listens to a question from John Gutting, second from left, at Thursday evening’s meeting. Also pictured are Devin Bent, far left, and Heather Nordquisrt, Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Confusion over the publicizing of a community meeting with four EPA representatives to discuss a 10,000 square foot medical waste disposal facility on Pueblo of Nambe land behind the Nambe Falls Travel Center resulted in only a handful of local residents showing up to hear the discussion Thursday evening at Pojoaque Valley Middle School.
Four representatives of the EPA were present as well as Pueblo Gov. Philip Perez and Monarch Waste Technologies co-founders Kevin Yearout and David Cardenas were also on hand. Perez said an informational meeting was held at the Pueblo Wednesday evening to which Nambe’s sister pueblos were invited. Despite the low turnout, the meeting lasted the full two hours as Yearout and Cardenas responded to questions while seated in the audience.
Although the meeting was posted by the EPA on its website and social media, EPA representatives stressed that it was not part of the official process for approving a permit for the facility. In fact the 30-day public comment period for the permit application opens Tuesday and ends Nov. 29. If public comments are received in that timeframe the EPA is required to schedule a public hearing, however, if there are no public comments applicable to the permit submitted, EPA is not required to hold a public hearing and issue a permit to Monarch as soon as Dec. 29.
Although a report on the meeting in the Santa Fe New Mexican questioned whether the facility is currently operating “illegally”, that was never stated by the EPA officials at the meeting. The fact that the permit application was deemed complete Sept. 11 by the EPA and they are continuing to move through the permitting process seems to indicate that the agency has no problem with the current terms of operation.
Yearout said the Monarch system for processing the medical waste is called pyrolysis which is defined as “the decomposition of material using an external, indirect heat in an oxygen-free environment”. He said the process is endothermic, in that it requires heat input to achieve the process. Using moderately low temperatures, the waste slowly roasts as it absorbs the heat and decomposes in a sealed, airless chamber.
“This allows the volatile organic compounds to boil off in the form of gas which can later be oxidized in a more controlled manner. Because the waste material is not directly subjected to these elevated temperatures and combustion gases in excess of 900 Celsius or 1,653 Fahrenheit, harmful emissions, such as Dioxins and Furans, are simply not able to form. This unique difference is what allowed the EPA to give a special exemption for pyrolysis for incineration of hazardous/infectious medical waste,” Yearout said.
The Nambe facility accepts sharps and biohazard wastes, trace chemotherapy wastes, RCRA empty containers, pharmaceutical wastes and controlled substances from DEA takeback programs and drugs or other illegal contraband seized by law enforcement.
“We do not process pathological waste or human or animal remains or body parts in this facility,” Yearout said.
Monarch was approached by Nambe Pueblo Development Corporation in August 2016 and signed an initial lease some three months later. Building improvements were completed by August 2017 and the pyrolysis system was installed between August and October 2017. EPA gave Monarch permission at the end of October 2017 to begin operations, however Monarch immediately discovered a need to redesign portions of the system and informed the EPA that they were ceasing operations for redesign.
EPA was notified in March 2018 that the system was ready and Monarch resumed operations. From November 2018 to January 2019, the system was not in operation as Monarch waited for the initial performance test paperwork and approvals from NPDC and EPA. On Jan. 3, 2019, Monarch was allowed back in operation by the EPA to bring the system up to operating parameters in preparation for the performance test to be performed in February of this year.
After the stack test was performed in February within the allowable 12 months under EPA regulations, Monarch needed to re-perform a stack test in in May and were allowed by the EPA to operate for a week and perform the test.
That’s when things get “fuzzy” as Cynthia Kaleri, one of the EPA representatives, said at Thursday’s meeting.
Monarch was notified Sept. 11 by the EPA that their permit was deemed complete.
“There were a lot of ups and downs with the company being able to operate during the first year. They had to tear (the system) apart and put things back together. They weren’t even operating part of that first year. They’re allowed to operate under that application shield,” she said.
Another EPA representative, Bonnie Braganza, said Monarch did not require a pre-construction permit because their emissions are far below the minor source thresholds for private lands
Kaleri said typically companies will start operating and that starts the clock for when they shake the system down. She said they’re allowed to operate under federal system requirements for a certain duration of time – a year.
The “fuzzy” area referred to by Kaleri appears to relate to the period of time between October 2017 and March 2018 when Monarch never went into commercial operation and informed the EPA that they hadn’t done so. Monarch was apparently told by EPA that the 12-month period did not start, but it seems EPA regulations do not anticipate such an event.
All during the “Title V Operating Air Permit for Incinerators” process Monarch has been undertaking, they were also going through another process to obtain an exemption from air permitting as provided for systems using pyrolysis technology under federal regulations, Yearout said during the meeting. He said to help support Monarch’s assertion that their system qualified for the exemption Monarch approached Sandia National Laboratory for assistance through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program and a technical team was assigned to review the system design and operation. That review and testing indicated that the Monarch system met the design requirements for pyrolysis and produced emissions consistent with pyrolysis.
Yearout told the Los Alamos Reporter that on June 5, Monarch received a letter from the EPA confirming that the system produces primarily pyrolysis products and not products of combustion therefore it does not have to be permitted as an incinerator.
“So in theory, this entire time, effort and expense of the permitting process was unnecessary,” he said. “However, we had agreed with the Nambe Pueblo Development Corporation and the Nambe Pueblo to permit the facility, so we have continued down that path even though we are clearly and definitively not operating an incinerator.”
Yearout said that passing all the stringent tests and requirements provides “unequivocal evidence of our design and systems operation” should instill confidence in the NPDC, the Pueblo itself and the surrounding community that the Monarch facility is a “safe, efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly operation”.
At the meeting, when asked why his company wanted to be in the medical waste business when there are so few such facilities operating in the country now, Yearout agreed that there are fewer facilities.
“So medical waste is being shipped across the country to large incinerators – incinerators 100 times our size. Waste is being shipped from San Diego to Baltimore, Maryland all day every day,” he said.
Yearout said his facility has a very clean process with a fraction of the emissions a regular incinerator will put out.
“Our goal is to be small scale, to be close to the places where waste is produced and cut down the travel and shipping time. We want to intercept that waste before it has to travel across the country and destroy it in a much cleaner way,” he said.