SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of parents who live near a medical waste incinerator in south Davis County are calling on Gov. Gary Herbert to shut down the facility.
"Gov. Herbert needs to pull the permit and shut down Stericycle," Alicia Connell, told participants at a rally Wednesday in the rotunda of the state capitol building, yards away from the governor's office.
Connell and fellow residents of the Foxboro subdivision in North Salt Lake are pushing the governor to act, following an incident Friday, which only increased the growing tension of some neighbors toward the facility.
On Friday, neighbors reported seeing black plumes of smoke coming from the bypass stack at the North Salt Lake City facility, located at 90 North and 1100 West.
Stericycle is already dealing with state violations of its emissions permit. The facility is located within two miles of five elementary schools.
A spokesman for the governor, Ally Isom, said the governor shares community concerns about the emissions and said state agencies are pursuing penalties to the fullest extent of the law.
"With all the State and our partners are doing to improve air quality, it is distressing when one entity appears less committed to doing its part," Isom said.
In the meantime, some parents are still talking about the latest encounter neighbors had with the alleged polluter.
One of those neighbors was Sarah Sargent who said the discharge led to a state of panic, which had some people running for cover, including her infant son who was playing outside at a neighbor's home. She said the discharge left a dust, which stung her son's eyes.
"I want the incinerator shut down. I don't think moving it will fix anything," Sargent said.
Connie Roller was visiting a friend across I-15 in the North Salt Lake neighborhood of Eaglewood when the discharge happened.
"It reminded me of the thick smog in San Francisco. The smell was very strong and there were little pieces of ash floating in the air. It was eerie," Roller said of seeing the incident.
She said when she left the south Davis County community an hour afterward, her car was covered with ashes
One neighbor also called the South Metro Fire Department, which reportedly dispatched a truck but went back to the station when it was determined there was no fire to fight. The smoke was reported from 6:24 p.m. to 6:29 p.m.
A bypass event is when emissions from the incinerator are released to protect equipment inside. Company officials claim bypass events have only occurred six times within the past year, but neighbors suggest the practice happens almost weekly.
The company's troubles seem to be mounting.
The company already faces potential fines from the state's Division of Air Quality. The DAQ issued a notice of violation and an order to comply for violations of its Title V air-quality operating permit. Those violations included emission exceedances and failure to include test results demonstrating those overages in its semi-annual monitoring and failure to maintain normal operating conditions during a stack test.
The violations took place between Dec. 2001 and April 2013, the division said.
The facility has been granted two extensions to comply. Originally the last deadline was Aug. 30, but a dispute over wording on potentially penalties brought a new agreement on Aug. 28, with a 30-day deadline for compliance.
Amanda Smith, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees the DAQ, said state officials share concerns about Stericycle's notice of violation and is addressing the matter with all diligence. She suggested the DEQ is potentially ready to pursue all legal means to revoke the company's permit.
"The Division of Air Quality is closely scrutinizing Stericycle to ensure compliance. The revised Notice of Violation includes stiff penalties and improvements that provide a strong deterrent from future exceedances of those standards. If Stericycle does not comply with the conditions outlined in the NOV, DEQ will pursue all legal options to revoke its permit," Smith said in a prepared statement on Wednesday.
Under existing guidelines the company is allowed to burn up to 2,500 pounds of medical waste per hour and 7,000 tons of waste per year.
Action at the state level may go beyond compliance issues. State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he is considering legislative options in addressing Stericycle, including the possibility of banning the burning of all medical waste statewide.
Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, attended the rally and said the neighbors' concerns are legitimate and the company violations raise serious concerns.
"These people do not feel safe," Edwards said.
She suggested lawmakers may look at relocation options for the company, among others. She said they may have to offer Stericycle some economic incentives. She also raised the possibility of legislation raising emissions standards for the plant.
Edwards acknowledged the facility was in place before Foxboro and other subdivisions were built, but said recent actions by the Illinois-based company suggest the company could have been violating their permit, beyond what state officials have cited.
The Standard-Examiner attempted to reach corporate officials in the firm's Lake Forest, Ill., headquarters for comment, but the call was not returned.
Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said emissions from Stericycle would not be safe, even if they were within state standards.
"The best managed incinerator would still be a community health hazard. This facility has hardly been well managed," Moench said.
Sargent said only one options makes sense -- closing down the facility.
"I know they were there first, but we're there now...We were never told they were going to be emitting more than they are allowed," Sargent said.