Nambe Tribal Member Raises Concerns About Monarch’s Medical Waste Facility

IMG_6296.jpgNambe Pueblo tribal member Marquel Musgrave, right, chats with Nambe Pueblo Gov. Philip Perez and New Mexico Environment Department Assistant General Counsel Tribal Liaison Kathryn Becker following Wednesday’s meeting with EPA officials in Pojoarue. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Nambe Pueblo tribal member Marquel Musgrave told EPA officials Wednesday that she is submitting a petition to the Tribal Council in opposition to the Monarch Waste Technologies hospital medical infection waste disposal facility on Nambe tribal land.

Musgrave made her comments during an public hearing conducted by the EPA at Pojoaque Middle School on Monarch’s application for a permit under the Clean Air Act Title V. Monarch uses pyrolysis, an endothermic process that relies on an oxygen-depleted environment to bring about the chemical decomposition of waste materials. Some 20 people attended the meeting including a tribal liaison from the New Mexico Environment.

Monarch was approached by Nambe Pueblo Development Corporation in August 2016 and signed an initial lease for the 10,000 property which is located behind the Nambe Falls Travel Center, some three months later. At a prior public hearing in October, Nambe Pueblo Gov. Philip Perez made it clear that the corporation is a separate entity.

Musgrave’s petition which she read at the meeting says that the Pueblo must take care of the land, air and water in line with the inherent responsibility of the Tewa people to live of and with the land. It asks that future projects that cause pollution or harm to the land, air, water or people be put up for referendum vote by community members.

“We ask that the Pueblo of Nambe focus on pursuing economic development opportunities that contribute to the sustainability of clean air, water and clean energy for the benefit of living in good relationship to our territory lands, our sister pueblos and surrounding communities, for the health and wellbeing of our people, our plant and animal relatives and future generations,” Musgrave read. “We ask that action steps be taken to remove the current project that is not in line with these values which involves the involves the processing of medical waste including blood products, infectious waste, trace chemo, controlled substances and pharmaceuticals”

The petition asks the Tribal Council to change a previous resolution to discontinue Monarch operations

“The current Monarch Waste operation is not in line with our cultural values and we ask that it be removed and the area properly cleansed both practically and ceremonially,” Musgrave concluded.

Monarch officials said the biproduct of the pyrolysis is an inert carbon char which they send to the landfill.

Monarch processes pharmaceutical waste such as pills, injectables and antibiotics. Chemotherapy waste such as medications, partial doses, syringes, needles, gowns, gloves, aprons, tubing and packaging. Biohazard “red bag” waste including infectious waste, trace blood products, contaminated personal protective equipment, IV tubing, cultures and stacks are also processed as well as trace chemicals in empty vials, etc.

Monarch representatives say the company does not process hazardous waste, pathology waste or recognizable human body parts or animal body parts.

Monarch maintains that people can’t get sick from their operations. They say their pyrolysis system processes at temperatures equivalent to the inside of a volcano which means nothing “alive” can survive.

There are two waste streams from the plant. The first is the char. Waste introduced into the system is reduced by 95 percent so for every 100 lbs introduced into the system, 5 lbs of char is left at the end and either transported to a local landfill or sold on the commercial market in various industries.

Air exhausted from the system is oxidized and the resulting hot air is used as a heat source for the pyrolysis before being cooled, dosed with a sodium bicarbonate/activated carbon mixture and passed through ceramic filters. The system has a continuous emission monitoring system and under EPA regulations, the emission are checked every 15 minutes according to Monarch.

A man who lives close to the Monarch facility said he understand what Monarch’s meter readings tell them.

“But the “sniff” test tells us the stuff is in the air we smell all the time,” he said adding that the smell was worse “burning the biolab body parts.

“It had an odor to it,” he said.

A consultant to Monarch responded that the olfactory system is more sensitive probably than any man-made system. He added that the ceramic filter used by the system has a 99.99 percent efficiency rate making it more efficient than a paper filter.

Asked if it she anticipated the EPA would decide to renew the permit, EPA representative Cynthia Kaleri said public comment is set to end on Jan. 3, 2020 and then EPA has to prepare a response on the comments that they received during the entire public comment period so that will take time. She said the decision could be made as early as two months after that.

In response to a question, Kaleri said the tribe has their cultural issue which to her is a big issue, “probably the biggest”.

Asked about the inversion issue raised by Devin Bent of Nambe, she said that concern had been raised at the last meeting and is being looked at,

Yearout said that the amount of air Monarch actually emits from the exhaust fan is 564 cfm which is the amount of air that comes out of 5.5 hair dryers running simultaneously, so it is not a lot of air.

“So when you talk about the inversion and the amount of air going into that to get trapped, it’s a very small amount. You would actually have to run our system 12 hours straight just to fill up this (gymnasium) with air. So when you start thinking about the expanse in an inversion, it’s a small, small amount of air,” he said.