Medical waste company fights back against claims

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

NORTH SALT LAKE — In a three-page response to the Salt Lake County Council, officials from Stericycle admit the company is the subject of a federal investigation but claim it is cooperating in the probe.

The company’s statement was aimed at clearing what it cites as misinformation about the medical waste-incineration process.

The letter refutes claims made to the council Tuesday, which led the group to call on Gov. Gary Herbert to shut down the North Salt Lake medical-waste facility.

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.

The letter addresses eight specific claims made in the council letter to the governor.

It addresses the need to incinerate waste; the issue of whether incineration spreads disease; the claim the company’s emissions issues are more than a neighborhood issue; the claim about being the subject of both state and federal investigations; shutdown and upset conditions that led to bypass emissions; the importing of medical waste from other Western states; and the question of whether Herbert has the authority to shut down the facility.

Points made in the company response include:

• There is a need to incinerate medical waste, despite claims otherwise. It says incinerated medical waste makes up about 10 to 15 percent of the total medical-waste stream.

• The NSL incinerator is a minor source of air emissions and contributes “negligible” amounts of emissions to the inversion problems along the Wasatch Front.

• There are no studies that show emissions from incinerators can travel hundreds of miles.

“Generalized assertions like this can be made about any and all sources of air emissions in Utah. Such grossly overstated and simplified claims should not drive policy decisions,” states the letter.

• The relief stack, or bypass, used by Stericycle is used infrequently and has been open approximately 0.05 percent of operating hours in 2013.

“These emissions are estimated and reported to the state,” states the letter.

• Medical waste from Utah is exported to other states and would end up in Beehive State landfills otherwise.

• Stericycle’s emissions are not creating a public health risk or emergency.

• There is no need for Herbert to consider closing the plant because it is “not creating any significant risk of harm.” It says closing the plant would put 55 local residents out of work.

The response comes as opponents of the Illinois-based company ratchet up pressure for the company to move or be closed.

Alicia Connell, one of the NSL organizers who has pushed for Stericycle to be closed, said the group is working on a lot of fronts to increase pressure. The group has also reached out to environmental activist Erin Brockovich and gotten her team involved in the effort against the company.

Stericycle’s claims that the company’s emissions pose no health risk for local residents in southern Davis County or along the Wasatch Front run counter to presentations made by Dr. Brian Moench, of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Moench said there are studies linking exposure to emissions from heavy metals to birth defects. He calls the emissions from Stericycle a “crime against our children” and said there is no safe exposure level to the emissions.

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