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Why Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator operations are leaving Utah

SHARE Why Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator operations are leaving Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Stericycle will close its North Salt Lake medical waste incinerators after deciding to abandon a planned move to Tooele County as part of a negotiated settlement with the state of Utah.

The Utah Division of Air Quality agreed to waive half of a $2.3 million fine in 2015 if the company agreed to locate its incineration operations to a more remote section of the state away from residential populations.

Stericycle had three years to complete the move from North Salt Lake once all regulatory permits were issued and it had the approval of the governor.

But company spokesman Jennifer Koenig said Thursday the planned 40-acre parcel to serve as the new site for twin incinerators proved unworkable.

"The challenges with water became too costly to make this economically feasible in the long term," she said.

Koenig said Stericycle notified the air quality and solid waste divisions with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality of its decision to abandon the Tooele County site on Wednesday.

"We will keep our transportation piece in North Salt Lake," she added, so its metropolitan base of customers will still have an avenue for disposal of waste that is trucked out of state.

Koenig said the company has 10 incinerator units in six locations, with the closest that could be served through long haul trucking situated in Kansas City, Kansas.

Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said Thursday it was too early to comment on the implications of Stericycle's decision regarding enforcement of the settlement agreement's provisions.

"The settlement is a two-party agreement. We will need to work together to agree on the terms now that the underlying understanding has changed. We have not yet completed those discussions, so I can't comment about the final implications of their decision at this time," he said.

Koenig, however, said she does not believe Stericycle risks an imposition of the entire fine because of the decision to not relocate to Tooele County.

"The fine was dependent upon us closing the (North Salt Lake) facility once all the (state and local) permits had been issued. We intend to be compliant with the agreement."

Stericycle incinerates medical waste that includes pathological streams, trace chemotherapy and nonhazardous pharmaceutical waste from clients such as hospitals and nursing homes.

The Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, an environmental advocacy group that has long opposed Stericycle, issued a statement Thursday supporting the decision.

"Given Stericycle's troubling history here in Utah, their contribution to the Wasatch Front’s air pollution problems and Tooele County’s already excessive hazardous waste activity, it’s appropriate for this company to move its operations elsewhere,” Dr. Scott Williams, the group's executive director, said in the statement. “We believe that Utah should maintain its focus on attracting clean businesses and jobs and not rely on hazardous industries to sustain its economic growth.”

North Salt Lake residents and clean air activists for years pushed to get the incineration facility to leave the neighborhoods built up around it.

That push gained momentum after the state issued its highest monetary fine in history against the company for air pollution-related violations.

Regulators first suspected irregularities in late 2011 and throughout 2012 during a series of three stack tests to determine the level and nature of pollutants released from the plant. Tests are supposed to be conducted at the maximum production or combustion rate and reflect normal, operational variances.

According to the division, the company 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 also said they believed the company's logs were manipulated to show compliance with operating conditions.

Koenig said the company was disappointed it could not make the Tooele County location work.

"It was disappointing to put in this much effort and not be able to move the project forward."