Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Board Of Health, 1/13/22
Present: Nancy Gilbert (Chair), Steve George, Maureen Millea, Lauren Mills, Timothy Randhir
Staff: Jennifer Brown, Health Director
Proposed Regulations For Waste Hauling And Mandatory Recycling
The Board of Health (BOH) decided at their meeting of November 18, 2021, to create a working group to review the present Regulations for Refuse Collection and Mandatory Recycling and establish the elements of a pilot program to be provided directly by the town or through a town contract with one or more haulers, that would include curbside trash, recycling, and compostable materials pick up in basic service, a pay-as-you-throw fee structure, and local compostable materials processing and reuse. The proposal was drafted and submitted to the board by Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA). The resolution adopting the proposal was rescinded at the next BOH meeting on December 6, 2021, with Chair Nancy Gilbert stating that the board did not currently have the capacity to do the proposed work.
At the meeting of January 13, Gilbert offered a new resolution supporting a proposal from Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA) for a pilot program that includes mandatory recycling as well as pick-up of curbside trash, recycling, and compostable materials in the basic service package of any contractor operating in town. and asks for input from the town council and town manager about how to move it forward.
The exact wording of the resolution is as follows:
The Board of Health supports the Zero Waste Amherst’s proposal for a pilot project to include curbside trash, recycling and compostable materials pick up in basic service, and is asking for input from the Town Council’s and Town Manager’s for action on the Zero Waste Amherst’s proposal to move the proposal forward.
After a discussion that revisited some of the issues raised during the December 6 discussion that led to rescinding the original resolution, the board voted unanimously (5-0) to endorse the new resolution. The board concluded that the effort to reform hauler requirements and move toward more comprehensive recycling is worthwhile and important, and that responsibility for regulating solid waste in town rests squarely with them. They noted that the challenge of implementing a pilot project now is that additional personnel and support from town hall are needed to coordinate the project.
Lauren Mills thought the board needs to know more before they can endorse the resolution. She worried that ZWA may be asking the BOH to do something ZWA ought to do themselves and that promoting curbside composting is not the responsibility of the BOH.
Gilbert explained that the BOH is responsible for the town’s solid waste regulations.
Timothy Randhir agreed that the issue is important, but wanted to know more about the economic implications of changing the regulations for solid waste, which will impact haulers and need to be spelled out before moving forward. He also reiterated his previous position that the BOH should not be involved with solid waste issues unless there are clear health implications.
Steve George reminded the board that the BOH regulations puts the ZWA proposal squarely in their purview. “We are responsible for solid waste regulations and it’s certainly within our responsibilities to ask the town manager and town council to look into this, ” he said.
Gilbert concurred, adding that “the regulations are our responsibility.” “We don’t have the wherewithal to form a committee to work on this,” she said, “but we can stress for the town manager that it is important, and we want it to go forward, and we want the town manager and the town council to help us move this forward.”
Maureen Millea agreed but noted that bringing this up now is poor timing because of staffing shortages in town hall. In the past, she said, staff worked out the solid waste regulations and then brought them to the board for revision and approval. MIllea said that supporting the proposal will call attention to the issue and help make it a higher priority than it has been.
Radhir said he would like a better explanation of how composting would improve waste management in the town.
Gilbert reminded the board that “Amherst residents are currently stuck with a large fee for stuff to just go to the landfill, and a competitive bidding process would expand our options.” Then she invited Darcy DuMont, representing ZWA, to speak about the proposal and field questions from the board.
DuMont noted that it would be really helpful for the BOH to make a statement of support and request that the town council and town manager move the proposal forward. “We have the endorsement of the League of Women Voters Amherst and other Amherst groups, and your endorsement would help build momentum,” she said. She noted that USA Trucking, which currently holds the waste hauling contract for Amherst residents, recently imposed another substantial fee increase.
Recombinant DNA Regulations Revisions
George and Millea presented their draft revisions for the town’s recombinant DNA regulations. (See existing regulations here.) They noted that currently no work being done in labs in town would fall under these regulations and that the prospect of such work being undertaken in the future at labs at Amherst College or Hampshire College is pretty slim. They pointed out that should such work be undertaken at any campus in the future, that entity would have to register it with the town. Randhir noted that the new document should emphasize the requirement “for some kind of reporting” to the town for labs undertaking work that falls under the town’s recombinant DNA regulations’ bio-safety concerns. The revised regulations will be the subject of public hearing before the BOH can vote to adopt them.
Community Health Assessment
Gilbert reported that the board wants to begin the town’s community health assessment in January but has been highly constrained because of COVID. Phase 1 will involve mostly remote work done by five UMass public health graduate students under the guidance of the town’s health director, Jennifer Brown, primarily using census data. Gilbert expressed her hope that the assessment will lead to closer collaboration between the board and the UMass School of Public Health.
Director’s Update On COVID-19
Brown reported a considerable COVID spike in town in January, with 600 new cases recorded in the last seven days including 150 new cases the previous day (1/12). She noted that the incidence rate has gone up to 34.1/100,000 from 28.6/100,000 the previous week, with a new positivity rate of 3.68%. She said that this relatively high rate reflects the high rate of testing in Amherst. She noted that the CDC continues to rank Amherst as in the high range of transmission. Brown said that we should be optimistic that the current surge is near peak , based on the wastewater data coming out of Boston, but should still expect some increases in Amherst with students coming back this week, but it is encouraging that they will be coming back vaccinated and boosted. She reported that the health department is currently in surge mode, prioritizing cases in young people 18 years and under in the Amherst schools. She said the spread in Amherst matches what’s going on statewide, with transmission substantially through small gatherings, and that not much spread has been documented from the schools. Similarly, cases in long term care facilities have originated with staff, without significant evidence for internal spread.
Brown reported that the health department has asked restaurants to comply with the town’s mask mandate and has handed out KN95 masks to the BID. The health department is encouraging residents to upgrade their masks to N95, KN95 and KF94.
The town is continuing to run vaccine clinics and is providing vaccinations and booster shots for the homebound with assistance from the Amherst Fire Department. The town is now 87% fully vaccinated. This reflects a percentage drop but now includes all residents age five and up. (Note: according to the Massachusetts Department of Health, fully vaccinated means two doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but this designation is expected to change soon to include boosters. Brown also noted that it is not too late for people to get a flu shot.
No public comment was offered at this meeting.
The next meeting of the BOH will be on February 10.