Herbert pressured to do more against Stericycle

Nov 14 2013 - 5:34pm

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SALT LAKE CITY - Grass-roots organizers of an effort to close or remove a medical waste incinerator from south Davis County say Gov. Gary Herbert's study of potential health concerns associated with Stericycle is flawed and doesn't go far enough.

"We realize there is a severe lack of regulation, monitoring, funding and staff. It's appalling to find out Stericycle is pretty much regulating itself," Alicia Connell of Communities for Clean Air said of state efforts to regulate the North Salt Lake waste facility.  

Connell and representatives of Utah Physicians for Clean Air called on the governor to go beyond doing soil samples to probe the health impact of the plant. Speaking at a Thursday afternoon event at the Salt Lake County offices, they claimed the governor's study cherry-picks what it examines.

Dr. Brian Moench, head of the physicians group, called the governor's mandated study misguided. He said many of the smaller dioxin compounds generated from the facility don't stay in the soil and become vaporized. He said the smaller particles travel the longest distance and are the most dangerous.

"Stericycle emissions reach the total Wasatch Front. Data for cancer will be helpful, but it will be years. We can't wait several decades to decide whether this incinerator caused higher rates of cancer," Moench said.

Connell also vowed to push the issue beyond the governor's current focus.

"His study doesn't change the reality of the situation. Nothing has happened that will change that. We will do whatever it takes to make it happen," she said. She said soil samples won't show the impact of small emission particles on people impacted by the emissions, like a test of breast milk would.

She also said Herbert's emphasis is a bit bewildering given discussion about the company potentially moving from its North Salt Lake location.

"The governor told us and the North Salt Lake City Mayor (Len Arave) they had intentions of relocating.  Now all of a sudden he's doing a health study. What's his intent?" Connell asked.

Her comments came just hours after Herbert used a press conference to fend off criticism his study doesn't go far enough. He said state officials are monitoring emissions daily from Stericycle and he said he is very concerned about any health impact emissions from the plant might have.

The physicians group also read a letter they are sending to all of Stericycle's customers, asking them to stop sending their medical waste to the Illinois-based company.

Dr. Scott Poppen, a retired internist, said the first obligation of health care providers is to do no harm. He said it's ironic that hospitals, clinics and care facilities dispose of their waste to a company whose processes damage community health.

The state's Department of Air Quality issued Stericycle a notice of violation and order to comply on 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 afternoon press conference also featured three separate companies that offer alternatives to incinerators in dealing with medical waste. Utah is one of the few states that still allow incineration of medical waste. Stericycle imports medical waste from eight Western states to its Davis County plant.

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