Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — More than 50 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol rotunda with a message for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert: "We want less toxins in our air," said Alicia Connell, resident of the Foxboro community and creator of the CommunitiesforCleanAir blog.
The appeal was to the governor, but the target of the protest was Stericycle, which incinerates medical waste at its plant in North Salt Lake. Critics of the plant have said they want the company to change the way it disposes of waste. Others, many in attendance Wednesday, said they want the plant shut down.
The incinerators "concentrate" and "redistribute" hazardous substances such as dioxins, chlorine, mercury, arsenic and lead, among others, said Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist at LDS Hospital and Intermountain Medical Center and a vocal advocate for clean air.
Moench and pediatrician Ellie Brownstein shared studies at the event from the British Society for Ecological Medicine showing a correlation between those who live near an incinerator and the incidence of birth defects and adult and childhood cancer resulting from the pollution particulates that come from incineration.
Moench, who is also president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said Utah state code allows the governor to shut down facilities that are dangerous to the health of its residents.
According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, Stericycle contacted the division Friday and reported a bypass event that lasted about five minutes. A bypass event is a release of emissions to protect equipment inside the facility, said Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for the Division of Air Quality.
Such an event is not necessarily in violation of air quality standards. But a large black cloud filled the Foxboro neighborhood Friday, leaving behind the smell of rotten eggs and sulfur, and prompted the call for change Wednesday.
Under its permit, the Illinois-based company can burn up to 2,500 pounds of medical waste per hour and 7,000 tons of waste per year. Some of that waste includes human tissue from hospitals and clinics, and waste from mortuaries and veterinary clinics.
"Based on the medical literature, we are basically promoting the creation of a cancer corridor," said Cherise Udell, founder of Utah's Moms for Clean Air.
Herbert was not in Utah at the time of the rally. But representatives of his office said they, too, were worried about Stericycle's pollution levels.
"We certainly share community concern over these emissions. Our agencies are pursuing penalties to the fullest extent of the law. With all the state and our partners are doing to improve air quality, it is distressing when one entity appears less committed to doing its part," Ally Isom, Herbert's deputy chief of staff, said in an emailed statement.
The Department of Environmental Quality was still looking into Friday's incident to determine any violations, according to Donna Kemp Spangler, the department's communications director.
The Division of Air Quality was "closely scrutinizing Stericycle to ensure compliance," according to Amanda Smith, executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Companies that are not compliant face penalties of up to $10,000 per day, per violation, according to Harold Burge, major source compliance manager for the Utah Department of Air Quality.
A call to Stericycle for comment was not returned.
During a stack test in December 2011, Stericycle failed in its compliance with the emissions of nitrogen oxide, dioxin and furan, Burge said. That set off a series of tests for the incinerator that occurred over the span of a year. Stericycle contested some of the findings causing a delay in proceedings.
By May 2013, the department issued a notice of violation.
If the violation is found to be valid, the company will either have to pay a fine or complete projects that would benefit the environment.
At this point, Burge said, Stericycle has "demonstrated compliance" since the violation was issued.
Attendees at Wednesday's protest included representatives of Utah Moms for Clean Air, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, HEAL Utah and Greenaction.
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