January 30, 2001

Vet. School to Replace Incinerator With Cleaner Disposal Alternative

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The College of Veterinary Medicine will move toward a more environmentally conscious waste removal process beginning in early 2004. The College, which has operated an incinerator on its site since 1957, will use alkaline hydrolysis to dispose of pathological wastes.

The present incinerator was installed in 1985 at the current site, disposing of various diseases that are classified as “zoonotic” in nature.

Incineration in its current form refers to the burning of ash to ensure a proper disposal and some believe it is harmful to the environment. The veterinary college’s biosafety engineer, Paul Jennette, approximates that 500,000 pounds of animal remains are burned yearly along with nearly 130,000 pounds of waste bedding (wood chips, hay, etc.).

“We burn the carcasses of dead animals that carry viruses, from rabies to salmonella,” said Denver Metzler, senior incinerator operator at the site.

The organic animal remains as well as the bedding are treated at Cornell; regulated medical waste (RMW), such as the remains of needles and syringes, are sterilized, grinded and later shipped to a landfill in Syracuse.

Jennette pointed out that “there is a proposal in the works to allow us to complete the process from start to finish here at Cornell, thus eliminating the need to ship the RMW to Syracuse.” This would also eliminate the risks associated with transporting wastes, Jennette added.

Under the new process of alkaline hydrolysis, the animal remains will be subjected to high temperature, pressure and pH levels in order to dispose of the carcasses properly. The process leaves a liquid and left-over bone fragments.

Major disposal options being investigated include discharging it through sewage, trucking it down to a sewage treatment plant that has experience with treating concentrated wastes or possibly using it as a fertilizer.

According to Jennette, the environmental impacts of alkaline hydrolysis would be far lower than those from the current incinerator.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is currently being written and will outline alternatives for the current use of pathological waste. The committee is currently investigating all pros and cons and any alternatives worth considering.

Cornell Greens president Julie Baribeau ’02, called for more steps to safeguard public health and the environment. “The incinerator has always been a bad choice and I am glad that there are other alternatives that are being investigated; they certainly are worth looking into,” she said.

“There is a direct connection here between animal health and human health. We go to great lengths to ensure that the dead animals are completely sterilized and disposed of safely,” Jennette said.

With a new method of composting bedding and other environmentally friendly ideas in mind, an eye toward prevention of pollution is at the top of the agenda. “We have had numerous committees and alternatives; the anger and opposition that existed before in the community has shifted to a feeling of mutual trust,” said Jennette.

The report is expected to near completion this spring after all community input is gathered. A new addition to the current facility at the Vet School is slated to be finished in 2004 and will house a steam technique for sterilization purposes as well.

Archived article by Chris Westgate