Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa., and state and federal environmental regulators have fashioned a novel settlement to a lawsuit alleging that the hospital's medical waste incinerator violated pollution laws from 1992 until 1997, when it was closed.
Under a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia last month, Statoil Energy Power, the Alexandria, Va.-based incinerator operator, will pay a $250,000 fine, and Crozer-Chester will do penance with a $250,000 asthma detection and treatment program in 11 local schools. Neither party admitted or denied wrongdoing under the agreement.
The case was doubly tough on Crozer-Chester because it had built the state-of-the-art incinerator to reduce the environmental risk of transporting medical waste and simultaneously generate energy to run the hospital, said John McMeekin, president and chief executive officer of Springfield, Pa.-based Crozer-Keystone Health System, the hospital's parent.
"This is one of those 'no good deed goes unpunished' " situations, he said.
While disappointed by the turn of events, McMeekin said, "We feel good that we can make the whole thing go away by doing restitution . . . for the community."
Though the settlement isn't unprecedented, lawyers say the community-service penalty Crozer-Chester paid is significant. Crozer-Chester's two-year commitment to prevent and treat asthma in the community, which allegedly was exacerbated by incinerator pollution, illustrates a broader movement by regulators to creatively remedy alleged environmental wrongs with focused, local solutions.
The Crozer-Chester remedy is a welcome tilt toward a "common-sense approach" to environmental settlements, said Douglas Schleicher, head of the environmental law group at Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg & Ellers in Philadelphia. The firm wasn't involved in the Crozer-Chester case. He said hospitals confronting similar situations should consider such settlements based on services in lieu of cash payments.
The settlement was reached late last month and resolves a joint federal-state lawsuit alleging that 715-bed Crozer-Chester's incinerator violated clean-air standards for carbon monoxide and also emitted acidic gases, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead and ash. Several inspections revealed holes, cracks and leaks in the incinerator's air pollution control equipment, regulators said.