SALT LAKE CITY -- Gov. Gary Herbert said the practices of Stericycle raise concerns for all citizens. However, he said he does not have the power to close down the medical waste incineration facility, despite a push from Salt Lake County officials to do so.
In a short briefing with the media on Wednesday, Herbert said he had not seen a letter from Salt Lake County asking he use his executive power to shut down the North Salt Lake company, but he said state officials are already doing all they can to address emission concerns related to the waste firm. He said state officials have been monitoring the company's activities on a daily basis. He also said he referred the matter to the Environmental Protection Agency at the federal level.
Stericycle has been cited by the state's Division of Air Quality for exceeding the limits of state permits on plant emissions. The company has contested some of those charges.
"It's a concern for all of us," Herbert said of ongoing saga with Stericycle. "We're doing everything that can be done."
Asked if he was comfortable with the idea of medical waste being shipped to Davis County from nine states to be burned, Herbert said it isn't a matter of being comfortable with the concept, it's a matter of the company having legal permits to engage in the activity.
In the meantime, neighbors have actively organized against the NSL company and also called on environmental activist Erin Brockovich and her team to address the company's ongoing presence in south Davis County.
Politically, the Salt Lake County Council voted to draft a letter to Herbert on Tuesday asking him to shut down the plant, even though the facility is located in Davis County. The letter suggests the emissions impact more than Davis County and represent a public health risk.
Davis County Commissioners have not formally weighed in on the matter, but Commissioner John Petroff said the county's health department has begun to do some sampling in the area to see if there have been any measurable health impacts from the emissions. He said they haven't found any direct links so far.
Petroff said local authorities will likely leave the matter of regulating the company to state and federal authorities, who deal with permits and potential violations.
"We don't regulate any of their burning at all," Petroff told the Standard-Examiner. However, he said, if the company has been found to be in violation of their permit and poses a concern for the public safety and air quality, they probably need to be relocated.
"As air quality becomes more and more of an issue, it will become an issue. It has become an issue here. There has to be a safe way to do it. If they're not doing it properly then it needs to be done somewhere else. Somehow we need to deal with the waste," Petroff said.
Some people suggest Stericycle problems go far beyond questions of exceeding their air quality permits at the state level.
Robert Bowcock, of Integrated Resource Management, Inc. of Claremont, Calif., says Stericycle is the subject of a federal probe into alleged business grievances beyond the company's current problems with the state over violations of their air quality permit. Bowcock works as a lead investigator for Brockovich, whose fight against a California community was captured in an Oscar-winning role by actress Julia Roberts in 2000.
He said the federal government will neither confirm nor deny investigators are looking into the company, but said proof of the probe comes from state sources.
"They're a bad business, not just a bad air violator," Bowcock said.
He claims the firm shut down medical incinerators in other states, so it could be funneling some of that business to Utah.
Even though technology exists to deal with the waste without incineration, Bowcock said it is cheaper for the waste to be burned in Utah than to be disposed of otherwise.
Legislatively Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, have both talked openly about potential options to deal with the company. Weiler has suggested he may push legislation to ban the burning of medical waste in the state while Edwards has gone so far as to suggest economic incentives may be used to entice the company out of Davis County to relocate elsewhere.