NORTH SALT LAKE — Residents here want medical waste facility Stericycle shut down, and they are taking their message straight to the governor.
Residents say the air in their neighborhood is unhealthy when Stericycle burns materials at its facility, 90 N. 1100 West. They've called at news conference for 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Capitol to express their concerns in hopes of getting Gov. Gary Herbert's attention.
They say new video is more proof that the plant needs to be shut down. During a 5k run Friday, a thick black cloud of smoke was seen coming from a bypass stack from the facility.
“You could just see black, black smoke coming out of the bypass,” said Natasha Hincks Henderson, who lives near the facility. “There was a dust storm going on at the time, and the wind was just carrying it all over the neighborhood.”
According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, Stericycle contacted the division Friday and reported the event lasted about five minutes — from 6:24 p.m. to 6:29 p.m.
"They had a bypass event," said Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for the division.
A bypass event is when emissions are released to protect equipment inside the facility, Ruby said.
The process is not necessarily against air quality regulations, he said. However, the most recent event is still being investigated.
"It may have been completely operating in compliance with the permit, and it may have had a valve function so it operated as designed," Ruby said.
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.
Classified as non-hazardous, the waste still includes blood-borne pathogens and other matter critics say would be best disposed of in a landfill or treated via autoclave.
Stericycle has worldwide clients, but its North Salt Lake location is the leading plant for the Western United States.
Attempts to reach Stericycle officials for comment Monday were unsuccessful.
While the bypass event may be legal, that’s little comfort to residents who said they don’t know what went up in the air.
“We need to shut the incinerator down,” North Salt Lake resident Alicia Connell said. “Clearly they do not have control of their facility."
A growing collection of residents who live nearby are getting on board with the effort by other residents to shut Stericycle down. Video posted on the blog CommunitiesForCleanAir has more people aware and concerned about what’s going on at the facility, Connell said.
"It got to more people, more people started watching the video, and people started going, 'Oh, my gosh. These guys aren't crazy. Something really bad is going on,'" Connell said.
The Division of Air Quality is still in negotiation with Stericycle following a notice of violation filed May 28. The division determined routine stack tests exceeded the company's permit limits for hazardous pollutants released into the air. In addition, the division said logs of how much waste was being incinerated were altered to reflect operational uniformity that does not reflect the reality of day-to-day business.
The two sides could settle, or Stericycle could fight the allegations. Either way, neighbors are concerned and want answers.
"We know that they were there first, but it doesn't give them the right to go way over the toxin levels that they are supposed to and be falsifying records," Henderson said.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc