By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Commissioners in an Oregon county have temporarily stopped accepting boxed medical waste from British Columbia over fears they may have been burning fetal tissue at a plant that converts waste to energy, officials said on Thursday.
Marion County said it had stopped taking the boxes in response to an article it became aware of late on Wednesday in a Vancouver-based newspaper about the possibility the plant had accepted human tissue from outside sources.
"We are outraged and disgusted that this material could be included in medical waste received at the facility," Commissioner Janet Carlson said in a statement at the time.
On Thursday, the two-member Marion County Board of Commissioners directed staff to draft an ordinance excluding fetal tissue from medical waste allowed at the waste-to-energy facility, and stopped accepting all such waste until the ordinance can be passed.
"The intention isn't to cease all medical waste. It's just for the time being," County spokeswoman Jolene Kelley said of the waste, which comes from Canada as well as other sources.
"Both of our commissioners are pro life," she said. "They just feel it's a very disrespectful way to dispose, you know, of a human."
Kelley was not sure if the provider of the medical waste, Stericycle, was aware of what was in the sealed boxes. Stericycle officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Covanta Marion facility in Oregon processes 550 tons per day of municipal solid waste, generating up to 13.1 megawatts of renewable energy sold to Portland General Electric - enough to power a city the size of Woodburn, Oregon, with a population of about 24,200.
The company also provides solid waste services to the county's 300,000 residents, processing about 250 tons per month of supplemental waste, including non-hazardous medical waste, according to the website.
Officials at Covanta said they were unaware of the medical waste burning issue and placed the onus on the county.
"Covanta looks to the county to ensure the waste stream they send to us is in keeping with approved protocols and regulations. Covanta is shocked by these allegations and is discontinuing the receipt of this waste stream," the company said.
Representatives for the B.C. Ministry of Health could not immediately be reached for comment.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)