NSL medical waste incinerator accused of falsifying records, exceeding pollution limits
Edward Linsmier, Deseret Morning News
NORTH SALT LAKE — State regulators say a medical waste incinerator is violating its permit by putting too many pollutants in the air and falsifying records to disguise its actual emissions.
The Utah Division of Air Quality issued a notice of violation Thursday to Stericycle for its operation at 90 N. 1100 West, where it has a permit to incinerate nonhazardous medical waste and is subject to routine stack tests.
Bryce Bird, division director, said the notice stems from long-standing suspicion by regulators that something was amiss at the plant.
"This was the result of an entire year of concerns that we have had with their assuring us they are operating the facility in compliance with emission limits they have in their permits," Bird said.
Those suspicions repeatedly played out in late 2011 and through 2012 during a series of three stack tests to determine the level and nature of pollutants released into the air from its plant. Tests are supposed to be conducted at the maximum production or combustion rate and reflect normal, operational variances, Bird said.
According to the notice of violation, Stericycle at first attempted to blame tests that were in violation of its emission limits on a flawed laboratory analysis. After the division obtained additional information, it found that a Dec. 27-28, 2011, test exceeded levels for hazardous pollutants, as well as nitrogen oxides, or highly reactive gasses.
Bird said there were repeated problems with other tests and discrepancies that popped up in the company's logs that misled regulators.
"We received evidence that the loading of material into the incinerator during the tests was not representative of normal operating conditions," he said.
Bird said regulators believed the test loads were deliberately made uniform to alter emission levels.
"In essence, that renders the test invalid in determining how the facility operates at all times," he said, "which calls into question their ability to assure us and the public they are operating the incinerator properly at all times."
Attempts to reach Stericycle officials for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
The notice by state regulators was issued the same day the Environmental Protection Agency reached an agreement with Clean Harbors for violations at its industrial waste facility in Aragonite, Tooele County.
Clean Harbors, based in Norwell, Mass., agreed to a settlement in which it will pay $39,900 and correct violations associated with failing to report chemicals manufactured and used on-site.
A federal inspection in 2011 found the plant used or manufactured 16 regulated chemicals and did not report the emissions. A statement by EPA said the plant has since addressed the problem.
Cecilee Price-Huish, a clean air advocate with the Davis County Community Coalition, said she is glad regulators are stepping up and enforcing the rules on industry.
"I think these businesses that are emitting these hazardous pollutants need to be accountable," Price-Huish said. "They need to be accountable to the people who live here and to the state."
Violations such as these, she added, demonstrate that scrutiny should never be relaxed.
"Unfortunately industry — not all industry — is used to playing fast and loose and have a cavalier attitude about the impact they are having," Price-Huish said.
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