Opponents counter claims of medical waste company in North Salt Lake

Nov 7 2013 - 8:40pm

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Photo courtesy http://www.stericycle.com/history.
Photo courtesy http://www.stericycle.com/history.

NORTH SALT LAKE CITY -- Opponents of Stericycle are making detailed accusations that claim the medical waste incinerator company has distorted or lied about its compliance record and has treated local residents with disdain.

"They know they are guilty, and they must have thought all these years that we, the citizens of Utah, were a bunch of idiots and wouldn't at some point figure out what was really going on," Alicia Connell, one of the founders of Communities for Clean Air, said at the end of a three-page response to the company's claims they are in compliance with state regulations and working to be a good neighbor.

The response was released Wednesday.

Based in Illinois, Stericycle released a fact sheet in late September, which addressed frequently asked questions and said the company is in full compliance with its permits. It also said the company is working with the state to resolve allegations raised by the state's Division of Air Quality, earlier this year. It also denies any claims the company has falsified records.

The DAQ issued the company a notice of violation and order to comply May 28 for multiple violations of its air quality operating permit. The order required Stericycle to take immediate action to bring operations into full compliance. Stericycle has contested many of the findings, and the matter has been referred to an administrative law judge. 

The Standard-Examiner asked for a response to the Stericycle claims, and Connell and other supporters took several weeks addressing each claim and provided five documents and an audio file from Harold Burge of the DAQ for documentation on detailed matters.

Communities for Clean Air alleges:

* The company has not provided continuous monitoring of levels of dioxins and furans at its North Salt Lake facility. It also says Burge said the Environmental Protection Agency has not approved company monitors.

* Stericycle's claim that medical waste incineration is highly regulated only highlights that Utah's regulations are not sufficient to address the issue. Connell said she has spoken to air quality divisions in neighboring states and Stericycle would not be able to meet compliance regulations in those states.  

* Stericycle's claim that the state notice of violation this year is the only time they have been cited for being out of compliance is because they only have to prove compliance every two to five years.

* The company's claim they emitted less NOx -- or nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide -- than one single passenger vehicle during all bypass events in 2011 is a stretch, as there is no test data to back up the claim.

* Stericycle's active role in the community does not equate to being a good neighbor.

"Dumping money into a community that you are polluting and making people sick is not being a 'good corporate citizen,'" Connell said.

Gov. Gary Herbert has directed a three-tiered study of the potential health effects of Stericycle and a review of any potential impact the waste incineration company may have had on the surrounding community.

In the meantime, residents of neighborhoods around the plant have solicited the help of environmental activist Erin Brockovich and her team. The residents also have organized and attempted to bring pressure on Herbert, city officials and others to address the future of the company in the community and health concerns. The possibility of the company relocating has been a big part of that discussion.

Stericycle is currently being investigated at the federal level, as well as the state level, but company officials say the company is currently operating in full compliance with state guidelines. 

The company imports medical waste from eight neighboring states. Utah is one of the few states in the U.S. that still allows the burning of medical waste, and CCA suggests new technology makes the need to burn medical waste unnecessary.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has said he will run legislation in the 2014 session dealing with the waste issue, including the possibility of pushing for a ban on medical waste incineration anywhere in the state.

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