NORTH SALT LAKE CITY -- A crowd of concerned residents and health care advocates attended a protest Thursday night, calling out to Gov. Gary Herbert to shut down a hospital waste incinerator they claim is putting everyone's health at risk.
On May 28, the Utah Division of Air Quality issued Stericycle a notice of violation and an order to comply for multiple violations of its Title V air-quality operating permit.
Violations included emissions exceeding the permit limits for dioxin, furon and nitrogen oxide, failure to report the emission exceedances, failure to maintain normal operating conditions during a stack test and failure to include test results demonstrating these emission exceedances in the facility's semiannual monitoring reports.
These violations took place between December 2001 and April 2013, the division said. The facility has been granted two extensions to comply. The second extension expires Aug. 30.
"I live a couple of blocks away and have helped organize the protest," said resident Natasha Hincks. "We are very concerned that Utah is one of the last states still running a medical waste incinerator. We don't want it in our neighborhood."
Hincks said her neighborhood is fast growing, with dozens of young families and five elementary schools.
"Stericycle was here first, but there was a permit that stated no one was supposed to be living within a mile radius of the facility," she said. "So what happened? We're not getting a lot of answers from the mayor and city council. It's frustrating that our mayor hasn't even commented at all."
Calls to North Salt Lake's city officials Thursday afternoon were not returned to the Standard-Examiner.
Christopher Thomas, executive director of HEAL Utah, a nonprofit organization that advocates clean air and identifies who the appropriate decision makers are in cases such as this one, said the facility doesn't just emit steam as it claimed at a recent community hearing organized by concerned residents.
"The fact that they have been cited with allegedly falsifying their records alarming," he said. "So did they lie to the city council, and is that why homes were allowed to be built so close? They aren't just emitting steam. Residents have reported seeing smoke coming out of the bypass stack, and that should only be happening in very specific situations, not on a regular basis. Bypass stacks don't have any controls for pollutants."
Hincks said she has taken several pictures of the bypass stacks emitting a thick, dirty smoke.
"There are some major violations going on and some major toxic chemicals that are literally right in our backyard," she said. "A lot of scary stuff is going on around here. Breathing problems, heart defects, miscarriages. We want to meet with the governor. We want to meet with the hospitals and make sure they are being responsible of how their medical waste is being handled. We're angry, and we deserve some answers."
In a public meeting recently, Stericycle officials admitted they are allowed to accept and burn prions from human and animal tissue. Prions are deforming proteins responsible for causing Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans. The disease, better known as mad cow disease, is a 100 percent fatal brain disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the health and radiation committee of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said prions are highly infectious strands of protein that have the unique ability to reproduce on their own and are very difficult to fully destroy, even at extreme temperatures. He also said other toxins being emitted by the facility include dioxins, lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chlorine, ammonia and benzene.
In a video on the EnviroNews Utah website, Stericycle Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Selin Hoboy said the company does have a permit condition for prions, and if the company were to accept them, it would have to notify state regulators.
"There are studies that show that prions are never really fully destroyed and remain in the environment," Hoboy said in the video.
Resident Alicia Connell said Erin Brokovich's organization has agreed to step in and help the group. Brockovich is an environmental activist and lawyer who was instrumental in constructing a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993.
"One of our committee members and Foxboro resident, Sarah Sargent, decided to research Erin Brockovich and realized that she now has her law degree and is still an activist. She requested their help about a month or so ago. They called the next day, interested in what was going on," Connell said. "Sarah and I met with Robert Bowcock, an environmental investigator for Erin, on Saturday, Aug. 10, and he let us know that they have agreed to help us. We won't quit until this incinerator is shut down."
Efforts to contact Stericycle were unsuccessful.