Just months after Maryland regulators secured a historic penalty against the operators of the medical waste incinerator in South Baltimore, the state is again going after the facility, alleging continued environmental violations.

On Thursday, the Maryland Department of the Environment filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court against Curtis Bay Energy, which runs the incinerator in Hawkins Point. The state is asking a judge to order the company to make necessary repairs and impose fines of up to $25,000 per violation.

Under Maryland law, the complaint states, each day an issue continues is considered a separate violation.

The lawsuit asserts that the incinerator repeatedly violated emissions limits for carbon monoxide and hydrogen chloride, a toxic pollutant. That’s along with surpassing visible emissions limits, releasing uncontrolled and unpermitted gasses and using a monitor that did not record valid data.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“We will not tolerate unlawful practices that threaten the health and well-being of Maryland residents, especially those who are already overburdened,” said Serena McIlwain, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, in a statement.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General filed the enforcement action on behalf of the department. Neighbors and environmental advocates in South Baltimore have observed pollution at the medical waste incinerator in recent weeks and alerted state officials. The lawsuit details their reports.

The complaint also comes less than five months after state leaders announced that Curtis Bay Energy had agreed to pay a $1.75 million penalty for its violations, the culmination of a lengthy investigation into operations there. Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown called the penalty one of the largest ever that the state issued for an environmental crime.

The state’s latest intervention is taking place despite a change in ownership of the facility since the investigation that resulted in a penalty last year. California-based Aurora Capital Partners acquired the facility in 2021 from a New York-based hedge fund. The South Baltimore facility is among the largest medical waste incinerators in the country and processes biohazardous material from across the country and Canada.

The attorney general’s investigation into the incinerator found that its operators routinely violated environmental laws by knowingly disposing of partially burned and improperly treated biohazardous medical waste. Officials with Curtis Bay Energy pleaded guilty to 40 counts of violating Maryland environmental regulations.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The attorney general’s office also reached a plea agreement with the company’s former director of operations, who investigators said knowingly proceeded with improper waste disposal and at times directed employees to commit them.

In a statement, Curtis Bay Energy said it has been working with environmental regulators to get into compliance and self-reporting when its facility exceeds legal emissions standards. The company said the “root causes” for “the vast majority” of the problems cited in the state lawsuit have been corrected.

“Curtis Bay Energy remains committed to operating compliantly within all specified parameters required by its permit, Maryland Department of the Environment regulations, and as expected by our community,” said Kelly Love, a spokesperson for Curtis Bay Energy.

The emissions violations have been going on for months, according the state lawsuit, which notes that required quarterly reports from the medical waste incinerator showed excess emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrogen chloride on more than 70 different occasions.

In this photo from Oct. 17, 2023, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown addresses reporters at a news conference outside of Curtis Bay Energy. Brown was joined by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Greg Sawtell, an environmental justice organizer with the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, has been keeping tabs on pollution from the medical waste incinerator for weeks. He and other community advocates first noticed dark smoke emitting from the facility when he was helping to lead a bus tour of Johns Hopkins University students to the site in late January.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Sawtell and other community advocates immediately alerted state officials to the issue and deployed cameras at the site to keep tabs on it around-the-clock. Since that bus tour, the cameras have documented dark smoke coming from the facility multiple times a week, sometimes for hours at a time, Sawtell said.

Since the state penalty last year, advocates have pushed for local hospitals to end agreements with the incinerator and stop disposing of their medical waste there. The Baltimore City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing next week to discuss uses and environmental consequences of the incinerator by local hospitals.

View post on Twitter

Sawtell also called on Maryland leaders to immediately suspend operations at the facility and said the community monitoring makes clear that Curtis Bay Energy doesn’t have its operations under control. Emissions from the facility are alarming for workers and community members who have to live with them, he said, but he also called it validating that their efforts to act in their own “self-defense” have shed new light on the scope of air quality problems in South Baltimore.

“This shouldn’t be the community’s task, but that’s clearly where we’re at at this stage,” he said. “The community’s taking action, and it’s delivering real results.”

More From The Banner