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Stericycle emissions permit up for review for Tooele County location

NORTH SALT LAKE — The West's only remaining medical waste incineration plant has a proposed emissions permit up for public review over its planned moved to a remote Tooele County location.

Regulators with the Utah Division of Air Quality are proposing to approve the permit, but they may make modifications based on feedback and comments expected at an April 18 public hearing at Tooele High School.

The company would still need to get a solid waste disposal permit under a separate process within the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Stericycle has been working through the permitting process for its new location — a move generated by yearslong criticism from its suburban neighbors in its current home in North Salt Lake west of I-15.

Opposition to the plant's operations reached a new height after the company was issued a notice of violation in May of 2013 by the state for violating permitted emissions.

Angry residents and activists demanded the company shut down after it was revealed the company violated stack test levels for hazardous pollutants, as well as highly reactive gases.

Regulators first became suspicious in late 2011 and throughout 2012 during a series of three tests with anomalies. In subsequent investigations, regulators said there were discrepancies in the company's logs that were not reflective of routine operations.

In an agreement reached with the state, Stericycle agreed to a $2.3 million fine — the largest ever levied in the regulatory agency's history — but agreed that half of that fine would be waived upon the company successfully obtaining new operating permits in a more remote location.

That new site — at 9250 Rowley Road — is an area of Tooele County that falls within federal clean air standards for pollutants. Additionally, because the company will emit less than 100 tons per year of certain hazardous pollutant, it will be regulated as a "minor" source of emissions.

Still, the company's planned operation at its new location proposes to more than double the amount of waste it incinerates, up to 18,000 tons compared to what it currently incinerates in North Salt Lake — 7,000 tons.

Company spokesman Jennifer Koenig has said the increased incineration volumes make financial sense for Stericycle given its investments in more sophisticated pollution control technology utilized on a bag house, evaporative cooler and waste heater boilers, for example.

Each of the units the company plans to operate are capable of incinerating 2,050 pounds of certain medical waste per hour, with the two-stage system capable of complete destruction of the waste.

Stericycle's customers include hospitals, nursing homes, mortuaries and veterinary clinics, with disposal of medical waste that includes certain pharmaceuticals and sharps (needles and syringes). It does not take radioactive waste or hazardous waste.

Despite the increased volumes of waste that would be incinerated at its new facility, Stericycle officials say certain pollutants will see drastic decreases because of the advanced technology. Those decreases include: a 93 percent reduction in mercury emissions, 98 percent reductions in lead emissions and a 27 percent cut in particulate matter.

Certain dioxins and furans — toxic chemicals that can be produced from the incineration of medical waste — will see a 35 percent decease at the plant's new facility.

Stericycle critics say the company should move out of the state altogether or pursue alternative means of incinerating waste that cause less pollution.

The company contends incineration is the most effective way of destroying the waste to minimize public exposure, and the cheapest for its customers.

Written comments received by the air quality division at 195 N. 1950 West, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84114, on or before April 23 will be considered in making the final decision on the approval/disapproval of the proposed project. Email comments received on or before April 23 will also be accepted at jlblack@utah.gov.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16