Hamtown hooray! 

Stop the presses. Close the streets. It’s time to celebrate in Hamtramck — a free paczki for every woman, man and child! No, the pope’s not coming back for a visit. Better. The state Department of Environmental Quality has denied Michigan Waste Services’ application for a permit that would have allowed the company to change its method of burning medical waste at its Hamtramck facility.

Big whoop, you say. Hold on, we didn’t get to the really good part: The state announced it would begin the process to revoke the company’s current operating permit. If the long legal process involved is successful, the incinerator — the last of its kind in the state — will be required to shut down. The place has a long history of violating air quality standards, spewing all sorts of nasty stuff — including mercury — into the air.

This is a most joyous day for Hamtramckians and those who love the city within a city.

“I’m ecstatic, I’m very pleased,” says City Councilman Rob Cedar, who started up the protest against the incinerator nine years ago. “The community stood up, we had a demonstration, two hearings, a petition drive, a letter writing campaign, we did everything we felt we could do and the state listened.”

Hospitals in the past would throw medical waste into a boiler to sterilize and dispose of it. Now, steam baths sterilize the stuff — bed sheets, gauze, sometimes body parts — and shredders get it ready for the landfill. Except in Hamtramck, where the incinerator burned the stuff.

The environmental department said in a letter to the company that the state decision was based on the company’s failure to demonstrate a commitment to comply with clean air regulations and compliance orders, according to an e-mail sent out by Thomas Rohrer, director of the environmental studies program at Central Michigan University. The state noted that the incinerator failed to implement a mercury-waste reduction plan, to perform preventative maintenance activities and to provide complete records, Rohrer’s announcement states.

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