Announcing one of the largest environmental criminal fines in Maryland history, state officials today disclosed lurid descriptions of the egregious behavior of Curtis Bay Energy, a longtime medical waste incinerator located in South Baltimore.
Details about the environmental violations were made public as part of a plea agreement in which the company agreed to pay a $1 million fine, which will go to the Maryland Clean Water Fund, in addition to $750,000 for environmental projects for the surrounding community, to be distributed to local organizations by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
At a news conference near the facility, Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown provided details of the investigation, which was initiated by his predecessor, Brian Frosh.
Acting on a tip received in 2019 about the company, located at 3200 Hawkins Point Road, investigators discovered it had been cutting corners by routinely sending inadequately burned medical waste to landfills.
Photos released today showed piles of waste, which was supposed to be incinerated to a fine ash, that instead were a jumble of rubber gloves, medical equipment, bedding and red plastic medical waste.
But garbage dumps weren’t the only place where the biohazard-laden material ended up.
The plea agreement describes 2019 surveillance in which inspectors from the Environmental Crimes Unit followed a truck transporting the material from Curtis Bay to the King George Landfill in Virginia.
“During transport, the trailer containing the medical waste leaked fluid the entire trip and covered the agents’ cars and windshields with an unknown substance,” according to the agreement.
Going from Baltimore to a Virginia landfill, a trailer filled with medical waste leaked the entire way – Curtis Bay Energy plea deal.
The investigators documented two instances in which this “leaked fluid” made its way onto the roadway for the duration of the trip, and another case where a truck caught fire on the way to the landfill and burned through its metal container.
Acting on information from a tipster, investigators found an illegal pump system that conveyed waste liquid from the plant past a chain-link fence and onto an adjacent property.
And when inspectors from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) came on the site, investigators watched as employees disconnected the hose and hid it in the woods to avoid detection, according to the plea agreement.
Corporate in the Loop
The company pleaded guilty to 40 counts of violating its refuse disposal permit, including failing to treat special medical waste, failing to provide adequate personnel and equipment, failing to prevent leakage and failing to maintain adequate records.
The company was sentenced on August 18 by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Judge Martin H. Schreiber II.
Steady campaign contributions from the company to former City Councilman Ed Reisinger totaled $4,300 – Maryland State Board of Elections.
The plant manager at the time, Kenneth T. Jackson, also pleaded guilty to violations in connection with the investigation and agreed to pay a $30,000 fine. He was sentenced to two year in prison, all suspended, and placed on three years of probation.
The agreement indicates that officials further up the corporate ladder were aware of the highly profitable illegal practices.
“A review of annual tonnage reports submitted by Curtis Bay Energy to MDE reported the substantial increase in the amount of waste processed from 24,192 tons in calendar year 2018 to 30,062 tons in calendar year 2019,” the plea agreement notes.
“Records show that the plant management was in near daily communication with Curtis Bay Energy Corporate leadership regarding the amount of waste processed each day and and the profit recognized per pound.”
According to Brown’s office, the plant’s new owners, who purchased the facility in 2021, “have fully cooperated with the state’s investigation.”
In a news release by Summer Street Capital Partners, the Buffalo-based private equity firm that acquired it, Curtis Bay Energy is the country’s largest medical waste incinerator, opened in 1991.
Support for Politicians
Records on file with the state show the company has been a reliable financial supporter for city and state politicians.
Ed Reisinger, the former 10th District Councilman, reaped steady campaign contributions from Curtis Bay Energy between 2007 and 2015, totaling $4,300.
Another $1,500 went to former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
And in 2010, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and then-Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who were seeking re-election, collected $4,000 from the company.
A year earlier, 0’Malley alone received another $4,000 from the waste company.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon received two contributions, $250 in 2006 and $500 in 2007.
And in more recent times – October 1, 2020, or shortly before he became mayor – Brandon Scott’s campaign collected $1,000 from the company.