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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Attorney General Mike Fisher today announced that agents of his Environmental Crimes Section have charged Waste Management of New York and Kephart Trucking of Bigler, Clearfield County, with alleged violations of the state's environmental crimes laws for illegally transporting infectious medical waste from a Brooklyn, New York, transfer station on Interstate 80 in Columbia County.
Fisher said his office initiated the investigation based a referral from the State Department of Environmental Protection. He said evidence of the defendant's illegal activities was presented before the 18th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, which recommended that he file criminal charges.
Fisher said the charges state that on May 21, 2001, at a weigh station on Interstate 80 in Columbia County located near mile post 246, a state police trooper conducted an inspection on a waste hauling truck operated by Randall Reed.
The inspection of Reed's truck was done as part of Operation Clean Sweep, a program to inspect waste hauling vehicles along Interstate 80, conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Fisher said the grand jury found that Reed was a commercial truck driver who owned his own tractor but had a contract to haul waste with Kephart Trucking Company. Reed used a Kephart trailer and picked up a daily truckload of waste from the Varick Transfer Station in Brooklyn, New York, hauling the waste to the Shade Landfill in Somerset County. The Varick Transfer Station is owned and operated by Waste Management of New York.
Fisher said the grand jury heard testimony from the Pennsylvania State Police trooper who conducted the inspection of Reed's truck. He testified that when he removed the tarp covering the trailer he observed what he believed to be infectious medical waste. The state trooper testified that he saw ventilator tubes, pill bottles, latex gloves, a scalp, brown hair, face shields, bloody protective clothing, bloody latex gloves, fecal matter and bloody hospital pads.
Fisher said the state trooper testified that before the grand jury that upon completing his inspection of the waste he noticed a red substance coming out of the tailgate of the trailer and dripping onto the ground. He stated that the substance collected in a puddle and began to move toward the drain in the parking lot.
The state trooper testified after completing his inspection, he contacted a DEP solid waste specialist who was in the area as part of Operation Clean Sweep. The DEP specialist also conducted an inspection of the trailer and determined that the load contained infectious medical waste.
The grand jury heard from a special agent with the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Section who testified that samples of the waste from the trailer, which included a piece of gauze, a plastic suction bag and suction tubing, were sent to the State Police forensic crime laboratory for analysis. The agent testified that the crime lab reported that the items contained human proteins, human blood and bodily fluids.
Fisher said that under state law, infectious waste is a subcategory of municipal waste and there are specific regulations that control its handling, transportation and disposal. Among those requirements is that infectious waste can only be transported by a licensed infectious waste transporter and infectious waste must be transported in a ridged, puncture-resistant container. Infectious waste is usually disposed of in an incinerator.
Additionally, Fisher said, the regulations require that the vehicle used to transport the infectious waste must be leak proof and that a Pennsylvania infectious waste manifest be used if infectious waste is to be transported or processed in Pennsylvania.
Fisher said the grand jury found that neither Reed nor Kephart Trucking had a license to transport infectious waste, neither had used an infectious waste manifest and that the infectious waste was not properly contained because the liquid was leaking onto the ground.
Fisher said the grand jury found that Kephart Trucking contracted with Waste Management of New York to haul municipal waste from Waste Management's Brooklyn transfer station to the Shade Landfill in Somerset County.
The grand jury heard testimony that Kephart Trucking made approximately 500 deliveries of municipal waste each day during April and May of 2001 and that the company generated approximately $40 million annually from transporting municipal waste.
Fisher said the grand jury found that Waste Management of New York had healthcare facility customers, including hospitals, whose medical waste was transported and dumped at the Varick Transfer Station in Brooklyn.
Fisher explained that hospital waste is generally broken down into two categories or waste streams: infectious waste and municipal waste. He said that infectious waste generally includes items that are used in medical procedures such as surgery and that municipal waste includes other types of waste such as paper and food.
The grand jury found that on May 21, 2001, Waste Management of New York employees at the Varick Transfer Station allegedly mixed infectious hospital waste with municipal hospital waste and loaded it into Reed's tractor trailer shipment destined to the Shade Landfill in Somerset County.
Fisher said both Waste Management of New York and Kephart Trucking are charged with three counts each of violating the Infectious and Chemotherapeutic Waste Disposal Act. Each count is a third-degree misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to $25,000 per count.
Fisher said the charges were filed today before Catawissa District Justice Craig W. Long of Columbia County. He noted that Deputy Attorney General Richard Tomsho of his Environmental Crimes Section will prosecute the defendants in Columbia County.
Fisher noted that both defendants waived their preliminary hearing today. Formal arraignment dates will be set by the Columbia County court.
Source: Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General