Oregon power plant: We never burned babies

by Andrew Branch
Posted 5/01/14, 05:27 pm

The Oregon power plant accused of burning aborted and miscarried Canadian babies for fuel fought back Wednesday, calling the reports false from the start. 

The B.C. Catholic reported April 21 that remains from the state-run British Columbia Ministry of Health ultimately end up in a Brooks, Ore., power plant. A source from the Health Ministry said disposal company Stericycle takes the ministry’s human waste—including fetal tissue—and sends some of it to Oregon. A waste-to-energy plant burns the material for power. 

The story quickly went viral, prompting an emergency meeting on April 24 of the Marion County Board of Commissioners, which has overseen the power plant’s contract with Stericycle Canada for at least five years. The county quickly barred the plant from accepting any medical waste until it made a thorough investigation. 

On Wednesday, the power company that owns the plant told the Portland Tribune that the reports were wrong. “It’s not just inaccurate; it’s completely false,” said Jill Stueck, vice president of marketing and communications for Covanta Energy Corporation. Stueck said Stericycle Canada told her that aborted babies are “human remains” and are in a different category from “fetal tissue.” She claimed “fetal tissue” means birth materials like umbilical cords and placentas, not actual fetal tissue. “We’re not burning babies,” she said.

But Stueck’s definition apparently is not shared by the B.C. Ministry of Health, which clearly distinguishes between “fetal and placental tissue” when describing the process of an abortion. The Associated Press reported that Ministry spokeswoman Kristy Anderson confirmed the province uses Stericycle for fetal material. Stericycle then sends biomedical waste, such as fetal tissue, cancerous tissue, and amputated limbs to the Oregon facility, Anderson said.

All babies who die after 20 weeks in British Columbia, whether by miscarriage or abortion, are buried or cremated through funeral homes, province health officials told CBC News. But before 20 weeks, a Canadian mother can choose that her child’s remains be treated as biomedical waste. Stueck, though, specifically told the Tribune that Stericycle “assured me there are no fetuses in this waste stream.” She told me today her “detailed conversation” implied Stericycle wasn’t even allowed to send babies to the power plant.

That leaves Stericycle to clear up its somewhat nonsensical definition of what constitutes “fetal tissue.” Charlie Alutto, an executive with the company’s U.S. division, did not return my interview request. The international waste disposal company based in Illinois has received harsh pro-life criticism for years because of its partnership with Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. Malin Jordan, editor of the Catholic newspaper accused of inaccuracy, told me his staff is working on a follow-up investigation. 

Aborted or miscarried babies will no longer be used for fuel in Oregon, though, regardless of what happened before. The Marion County Board of Commissioners codified new language Wednesday barring “human fetal tissue” from future medical waste shipments, defining the tissue as “tissue or cells from a dead human embryo or fetus after a spontaneous or induced abortion, or after a stillbirth.” County spokeswoman Jolene Kelly told me the definition came from the “U.S. code.”

Marion County has ordered contracts with medical waste companies be either rewritten or terminated to ensure this confusion doesn’t happen again. The ordinance does not ban placentas and other potential byproducts of elective abortion. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch

Andrew is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C. He was homeschooled for 12 years and recently graduated from N.C. State University. He writes about sports and poverty for WORLD. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewABranch.

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