NORTH SALT LAKE — Stericycle produces elevated levels of cancer-causing dioxins that cause property damage and health risks, according to a recent report from the Erin Brockovich environmental team.
A report from California’s Soil Water Air Protection Enterprise (SWAPE) noted the most dangerous dioxins were detected above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cancer-base screening levels in three of the four samples analyzed.
On Jan. 29, dust samples were taken from attics in several homes in Foxboro, the North Salt Lake neighborhood surrounding Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator.
No level of dioxins should be found in attics because the areas are made of wood and insulation, not chlorine, SWAPE Principal Paul E. Rosenfeld, Ph.D, said in an email.
Brockovich’s fight with a California community over pollution was the subject of a 2000 movie, with Julia Roberts playing the lead role. She has since been active in environmental matters around the country.
The report showed the most contaminated area was a home 400 feet from Stericycle that had a reading of 72.6 parts per trillion of dioxins/furans. A lifetime exposure to anything more than roughly 4.5 ppt of dioxins increases a person’s chances of cancer by 1 in 1 million.
The farthest sample was taken from a home 1,700 feet away that had a nondetect, or blank, reading because the dioxin level was basically nonexistent.
In January, the state Department of Health released a study combing through more than 35 years of data for the south Davis County area. The findings showed while some cancer levels were higher than the state average in the past six years, no cancer risks could be attributed to Stericycle’s operations, according to the study. The state also took soil samples in 2013 from the Foxboro area, but followed it up with an addendum stating the figures and location of the soil sample was incorrect. The corrected figures were still considered within a safe range. The 2013 report stated dioxins are mainly passed on in the air and only a small amount of exposure happens that way. The primary source of exposure is through eating “large amounts of food grown within the immediate vicinity of a large contamination source.”
Nevertheless, the state conducted more research to further identify what risk, if any, residents living near Stericycle may have incurred during smokestack bypass events. In the February report, that focused on air exposures, it disclosed Stericycle’s North Salt Lake facility received 7,223 tons of medical waste in 2011. Nearly 85 percent of the waste incinerated originated from outside of Utah.
In the Stericycle Incinerator Modeled Air Exposures Report, the overall conclusion was that even during bypass events, where the highest levels of emitted pollutants were dispersed, they were “not expected to harm people’s health.”
That answer wasn’t sufficient for some residents living in Foxboro, and the Brockovich team, so they did an independent study looking at current soil and dust samples.
SWAPE wrote in its report that “elevated levels of dioxins and furans found in dust samples on properties in the Foxboro South neighborhood clearly can be assumed to be caused by emissions from the Stericycle facility.”
It said the properties in the study area are “clearly impacted by Stericycle’s documented emissions ... (and) are subject to health risks during both regular operations of Stericycle and bypass events.”
Roxey Catenzaro believes her family is one of those negatively affected by Stericycle. She has lived in Foxboro for 8 1/2 years, only two blocks from Stericycle.
Her 3-year-old son has had a hard time with his health since he was born. Critics have told her Stericycle was there before she was, so she should deal with it, but she claims all residents of Foxboro were doing the best they could with the information they had at the time.
“He was catching every cold or respiratory illness and ending up in the hospital for every cold. It was really weird,” Catenzaro told the Standard-Examiner.
She took her son to every specialist and allergist, to no avail. He would also get random skin rashes that would last six weeks at a time. Last fall, she got approval to have his tonsils and adenoids removed at his young age.
That helped a bit, but she believes the majority of his health problems have been exacerbated by the air quality in the area. She has two older children, one of whom also has respiratory illnesses.
To those who say buyers just should have known better — and they say it often to her — she knows they don’t have a clue.
“It’s really frustrating and angering to know that this has been going on,” Catenzaro said, noting that when she bought the home, the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions for Foxboro didn’t paint the concerns for Stericycle as it does today.
Back in 2005, the CC&Rs only noted Stericycle would produce truck and traffic noises, parking lot lights, steam and “typical plant conditions.”
“For us, that is fine, that isn’t going to bother us,” Catenzaro said her family thought then, so they bought the house.
Fast forward to 2007. The CC&Rs now say studies have shown emissions from the plant contain “dioxins, mercury and other potentially harmful substances.”
The statement then lists Stericycle’s number along with five other governing agencies, including the state Division of Air Quality and the EPA, for concerned home buyers to contact.
It also says homeowners should only buy after doing their own research on the emissions and hazards their family might “be exposed to due to Stericycle’s proximity to the community.”
Then there is a developer disclaimer regarding nonliability for any of Stericycle’s operations or emissions.
“We didn’t know anything,” Catenzaro said about the hazards of living next to the industrial facility. “We are one of the families that (the CC&Rs) didn’t talk anything about the pollutants that came out from (Stericycle).”
Catenzaro isn’t as fed up as some, who are making plans to move. One of her neighborhood friends, in her 30s, has been a runner all her life and just recently developed asthma. She told Catenzaro she is moving largely because of Stericycle.
Other friends who have moved to Foxboro tell Catenzaro, “Truly, my kids have not been healthy since they have been here.”
Catenzaro loves the community and doesn’t want to leave, but she thinks Stericycle could be more forthright with the public and at least held more than one town hall meeting to address residents’ concerns.
She said since she moved here in 2005, the company has held only one major town hall meeting — and it was quite brief.
“They are so closed-lipped about it, unless it is staged and planned,” Catenzaro said. “Now it feels like they are very deceptive.”
Accountability comes down to those who knew about the problems when homes began to be built there.
“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would have allowed it,” Catenzaro said.
During the final week of the recently ended session, Stericycle got the OK from the Utah Legislature to begin the process of moving its facility to Tooele County.
Stericycle and Woodside Homes, the developer for Foxboro, were not available for comment on this article.
Contact reporter Cimaron Neugebauer 801-625-4231 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CimaronNews.