Curtis Bay Energy, the operator of a major medical waste incinerator in Baltimore, agreed to one of the largest environmental penalties ever meted out by the Maryland attorney general's office, according to a release Tuesday.
“This was a case of burn more waste and make more money no matter the consequences, with absolutely no regard for the community,” Attorney General Anthony Brown said in a statement.
The operator, known as Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services when it was acquired by private equity firm Aurora Capital Partners in 2021, pleaded guilty to more than 40 charges that include intentionally overloading the facility's incinerators to process material faster, resulting in "raw" or "uncooked" waste being sent to landfills in 2019 and 2020.
The company was put on two years of probation and agreed to review all standard operating procedures at the facility, updating them if necessary.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Curtis Bay Energy said a former director of plant operations and plant manager charged in connection with the violations have been terminated are no longer with the company. The company touted “increased investments in plant equipment, personnel, process improvements and training” since Aurora acquired the company.
“Curtis Bay Energy has fully cooperated with the state of Maryland’s investigation into past violations committed by employees under prior ownership and management of the company,” Kelly Love, a spokesperson, said in the statement. “Curtis Bay Energy remains committed to increasing its investment for preventative maintenance and workforce training and to honor its place in the community and region.”
The plea deal will send $1 million to the Maryland Clean Water Fund and $750,000 to the Chesapeake Bay Trust to administer environmental work that will benefit the overburdened Curtis Bay community around the incinerator.
"The need for this case arose because of decades of disinvestment and one company’s complete disinterest in protecting the health and well-being of Baltimore City residents in Curtis Bay," Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement. "The conclusion of this case will be a marker in the fight to build a better, safer, and more sustainable Baltimore for every resident, no matter what neighborhood they live in."
The attorney general's office began its investigation into the incinerator in 2019, when the facility was still owned by private equity firm Summer Street Capital Partners. Investigators found that workers had attempted to hide an illegal pump and hose that discharged onto nearby land from a Maryland Department of the Environment inspector.
Investigations the following year found that workers overloaded incinerators, sometimes at the direction of now former plant management, to process special medical waste more quickly. Such waste is likely to be contaminated by disease-causing organisms and includes “red bag” biohazardous waste from hospitals and labs, per the attorney general’s office.
Company records documented 108 instances of improperly burned waste during the period covered in the investigation and four fires on the facility’s burn pad. In one instance, ash from the facility also caught fire and burned through its metal transport container en route to a landfill in Virginia, per sentencing documents.
The plant’s management at the time was in regular communication with corporate leadership in 2019, and reported an increase in 10 million tons of waste processed through the facility in 2019 while labor costs declined. Investigators found issues with incinerated waste were “well-documented” and the plant’s management did not try to correct them.
Investigators did not report that corporate management directed plant management to process more waste than permits allowed during this period. The company began cooperating in 2020 when it was informed of the investigation.
The attorney general's office noted that the facility has been working to get into compliance following Aurora's acquisition. When its acquisition of Curtis Bay was announced, Aurora described the company “one of the only privately held vertically integrated medical waste solutions providers in the country.” The company also has a truck fleet and transfer stations.
As part of the investigation, the attorney general’s office also charged the director of plant operations and plant manager who worked at Curtis Bay at the time of the violations. The case against the former plant manager remains ongoing.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with comment from Curtis Bay Energy.