SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert agreed Thursday to sit down with Stericycle opponents later this month to hear their concerns over the medical waste incineration plant's continued operation in Utah.
The company announced plans to relocate from its North Salt Lake home to a remote location in Tooele County, but foes claim the move simply dumps the associated pollution in someone else's backyard.
"We have said from the beginning we don't want to give our problems to someone else," said Alicia Connell, with Communities for Clean Air.
Connell spoke Thursday at a news conference held outside Hebert's office to voice continued opposition to the company's operations in Utah.
The incineration of medical waste, she stressed, is an old and outdated practice that gives off harmful pollutants that are not safe at any level.
Connell said groups opposed to Stericycle will detail their long list of concerns in their Feb. 26 meeting with Herbert — most notably that the state would facilitate the relocation of a company that operated outside its pollution limits, is accused of falsifying records and remains under criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Stericycle, long-criticized by its North Salt Lake residential neighbors, ran afoul of state air quality regulators last spring, when the Utah Division of Air Quality issued a notice of violation asserting the facility was over its permitted threshold for emissions.
Regulators became suspicious in late 2011 and throughout 2012 during a series of three stack tests to determine the level and nature of pollutants released into the air from the plant. Tests are supposed to be conducted at the maximum production or combustion rate and reflect normal, operational variances.
According to the May notice, Stericycle first attempted to blame a flawed laboratory analysis for tests that were in violation of emission limits. After the division obtained additional information, it found that a Dec. 27-28, 2011, stack test exceeded levels for hazardous pollutants, as well as nitrogen oxides, or highly reactive gases.
Regulators asserted that there were repeated problems with other tests and discrepancies that popped up in the company's logs that misled them, including logs that were manipulated and not reflective of normal operating conditions.
Stericycle has denied the allegations, moving the issue before an administrative law judge to decide the merits of the case.
In the interim, the heightened pressure and scrutiny has led public officials to concede the neighborhood that has grown up around Stericycle makes its present location unsuitable.
The Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, has agreed to sell some of its land west of the Stansbury Mountains for a new location for Stericycle. But the company's critics want state to permanently evict Stericycle from its borders.
Clean air advocates reiterated their disdain for a health study released this week that found no measurable link that could be demonstrated with "environmentally caused" cancer cases and Stericyle's presence in the North Salt Lake neighborhood.
Dr. Brian Moench said an epidemiologist's assertion that those cases were brought on by "lifestyle" choices was ridiculous.
"It is deeply offensive to victims of those types of cancers," said Moench, with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "It is scientifically absurd."
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