NORTH SALT LAKE -- One of America's most visible environmental activists is calling on state and federal agencies and Gov. Gary Herbert to shut down Stericycle, saying the medical waste company is not in control of its own facility.
Erin Brockovich spearheaded a rally Saturday at Foxboro Elementary School against the medical waste burner, telling a standing-room-only crowd they hold the key to shutting down the business.
Brockovich's story about a fight with a California community was the subject of a 2000 movie, with Julia Roberts playing the lead role.
"I am here today to be your support, to be a cheerleader and to tell you positively without a shadow of doubt you are on the right track. You are doing the right thing. We are going to be with you on this and will fight as hard as we can to make that company go away so you have a better future," Brockovich said.
Brockovich and local organizer Alicia Connell locked arms after the rally and led a crowd on a three-block walk from the school to the front of the medical waste business.
The famous activist's push comes at a time the company has reached the end of a 30-day deadline with the state on Saturday to comply with its Title V air-quality operating permit.
The company already faces potential fines from the state's Division of Air Quality for air quality violations. 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 December 2001 and April 2013, the division said.
In the meantime, there seems to be a growing possibility company officials may consider relocating the facility from its neighborhood setting at 90 North and 1100 West. The facility is located within two miles of five elementary schools. Initial talk has suggested the company would look to relocate to Tooele or Emery counties.
Mayor Len Arave said Stericycle has initiated some discussion about potentially moving out of the North Salt Lake neighborhood.
"It's no secret the city doesn't think it's a great location for them. They don't think it's a great location. I told them, 'Would you consider moving?' and they're looking at that. I don't have the impression they are being unreasonable. They're looking at it," Arave said
Rep. Rebecca Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, has also raised the possibility of relocating the company and offering incentives. Saturday she told the Standard-Examiner the issue of taking action against the waste company is probably best handled at the legislative level.
Relocation may not be enough for some folks.
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. Medical waste is already banned in 38 states and Weiler said technology is in place so the practice is no longer needed to dispose of the specialized waste.
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. He said his group would oppose relocating the company anywhere within the Beehive state.
Moench painted a grim picture about the impact of heavy metals, such as those incinerated at Stericycle, on surrounding populations. He said exposing people to pollutants is a crime against children.
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.
Robert Bowcock of the Brockovich team told the crowd that looking to the state or others to solve their dispute with Stericycle will not work. He said neighbors organizing and pushing will force the company to potentially shut down or move.
"The state of Utah has sold your air. It's a natural resource that belongs to you. They've sold it," Bowcock said.