NORTH SALT LAKE -- Around 3 p.m. Thursday, Becca Hubrich was pulling into her driveway when her daughter exclaimed about the nearby Stericycle medical waste incinerator spewing black smoke.
A brief power failure had apparently shut down the plant's scrubbers and filters that prevent many toxins from pouring out into the air.
"They've had this problem before," said Hubrich, whose Foxboro home is literally within a stone's throw of the facility. Hubrich has run marathons in the past, but this summer developed asthma after having lived in the area for six years.
Hubrich is part of a grassroots group, Communities for Clean Air, that began battling Stericycle last May in hopes of getting the facility to shut down or change to cleaner technology.
On May 28, Utah's Department of Air Quality issued Stericycle a notice of violation and order to comply due to multiple violations of its air quality operating permit.
Since that time, Stericycle contested many of the findings, and the matter has been referred to an administrative law judge.
According to Donna Spangler, spokesperson for Utah DAQ, Stericycle officials confirmed that a "bypass" incident had occurred from 2:49 p.m. to 2:54 p.m. due to mechanical failure caused by a power bump.
Gov. Gary Herbert contends that state officials have been monitoring emissions from the North Salt Lake facility on a daily basis, since concerns were raised in 2013 by the DAQ.
Attempts to get official comment from Stericycle officials were unsuccessful. A phone call to the company's corporate communications department in Lake Forest, Ill., was sent to voice mail.
Utah is among a small number of states that still allow incineration of medical waste and the North Salt Lake facility disposes of waste from eight western states.
Alicia Connell, co-founder of Communities for Clean Air, said that she bought masks for her entire family to wear on Utah's bad air days, which occur often during wintertime inversions.
"Stericycle really needs to move," Connell said. "They could use technology with zero emissions, but they say that's too expensive."
The group plans to host a Clean Air, No Excuses rally on Jan. 25 at noon at the Utah State Capitol. More than 1,700 people have signed up to attend, Connell said.
Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.