HAMMOND — A medical waste company is facing a slew of city violations after officials said they discovered blood oozing from a container stored in a semitrailer at MedAssure’s Summer Street facility. A wider investigation into the company's operations is underway.
MedAssure Services, whose Midwest office is based out of Indianapolis, has been operating at 1717 Summer St. in Hammond for some time, but never has received proper zoning approval or a business permit from City Hall, said Kris Kantar, attorney for Hammond.
State environmental regulators have been contacted. The biohazard medical waste facility has been under a lease agreement at this location since at least June 2014, according to a 2014-16 agreement provided by the city.
MedAssure is considered a medical waste transport station, where waste is transferred from truck to truck.
Kelly Kearney, the city's chief building Inspector, said his department went to 1717 Summer St. at about 4 p.m. Aug. 6 to investigate the oozing blood. His department and others are reviewing the case for zoning and code enforcement violations.
"Blood dripping out of a trailer is not a common sight out here," Kearney said. "We're looking into hazardous waste violations. It's a potential bio-hazard.
“The semitrailers are being used to store and then haul the medical waste for treatment. They couldn't get a DOT driver and the container started to leak blood,” Kantar said.
A MedAssure representative did not respond to requests for comment. Property owner Andrew Young said MedAssure has been a "good and responsible" tenant since it began operations in 2014. They operated at the site without incident up until this point.
"This was a relatively minor incident. It was cleaned up shortly after it happened by MedAssure," Young said in a statement.
"The property currently has the heaviest zoning classification in the city. It has been used historically for heavy industrial uses," he added. "MedAssure only uses the property as storage for their trucks/trailers. They have no operations at the site besides this."
He alleges the city of Hammond has been aware of MedAssure's tenancy for well over a year when he filed in court for bankruptcy on the property.
The lease agreement with HRP II LLC requires them to comply with all local, state and federal rules and regulations, he said.
Hammond City Planning Director Brian Poland, who handles zoning issues, said the property is zoned I-2 (industrial), which allows for trucking and can include transfer of materials from truck to truck.
However, a business must obtain conditional zoning approval through the city's Board of Zoning Appeals if the material it handles is explosive, flammable or other potentially dangerous material — which did not happen in this case.
"So the question then becomes what are they transferring?" Poland said. "We know medical waste, by its very nature, must be contained properly and disposed of properly, and if it’s not, then it is potentially dangerous," Poland said.
Ron Novak, director of the Hammond Department of Environmental Management, said he received a call Aug. 6 from Hammond City Code Enforcement indicating it had uncovered MedAssure’s operation and leaking blood.
Novak said achieving proper zoning and permitting is critical, especially when dealing with biohazards and medical waste materials.
Novak said he spoke with a company representative last week, explaining, “No one knew you were here. What happens if you have an incident here and police, fire, or code enforcement is called out? They don’t know what they’re walking into. Nobody likes surprises. This is serious stuff," he said.
“When there’s a spill or a leak, there are two things I get concerned about: radiological and biohazards.”
Novak said he notified Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s emergency response team of the incident.
MedAssure has been paying $500 in monthly rent to the property owner, HRP II LLC, under a lease agreement that expired in June 2016. It’s unclear if that lease agreement was renewed on an annual or monthly basis.
Novak said MedAssure potentially faces up to two years of city violations. Under city ordinance, the fine is $2,500 for the first two and $7,500 for the remainder.
“I told them if they were to move out as expeditiously as possible, that would be taken into account (when assessing the fines),” Novak said.
The property in question is currently in the midst of bankruptcy court proceedings, city attorneys said.