Utah residents protest incinerator in their backyard
Close to 100 residents of the communities surrounding the West's last standing medical waste incinerator braved Tuesday's high temperatures to put the heat on the facility accused of spewing more pollutants into the air than allowed.
Residents of the Foxboro subdivision in North Salt Lake gathered in front of the Stericycle Inc. facility holding signs critical of the company and demanding that the plant be shut down.
After word got out of a May report from the Utah Division of Air Quality that accused the company of manipulating emissions tests and pumping excessive pollution into the air, many of the facility's neighbors in southern Davis County have gotten riled up, according to Bradley Angel, executive director of GreenAction, which helped organize the protest. GreenAction has been suspicious of the North Salt Lake facility for years, Angel said, and the state report confirmed, and even went beyond, what the organization has been afraid of all along.
"Our worst fears are not even as bad as the problem is," Angel said.
The state report alleged that Stericycle, which disposes medical waste brought in from around the region, had been pumping out harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, including dioxins and furans, chemicals that disrupt hormones and that have been linked to cancer. State permits allow the incinerator to burn more than a ton an hour and treat about 7,000 tons of medical waste per year.
Stericycle informed state regulators two weeks ago that pollution-scrubbing equipment has been updated and the incinerator is in compliance now, and pledged to comply with regulations and stepped-up testing.
Air-quality officials have granted Stericycle an extension until the end of July to decide if the company will try to fight the state's allegations before the officials assess penalties.
But many at Tuesday's protest were no longer willing to tolerate the facility in their backyard, whether it was in compliance with state standards or not. Many of the protesters wore face masks and held signs that read, "Stericycle Kills," "It's Time to Move" or "Toxic Incinerator: Please Stop Killing Me!" The crowd of about 80 to 90 people, including many children, squeezed between the side of the road on 1100 West and a spray-painted white line on Stericycle's front lawn, which ran in front of signs that read: "No Trespassing."
Bacall Hincks, 34, came to the protest from her home in Bountiful. Even though she doesn't live next to the Stericycle facility, she said she is afraid that it can still affect her family.
"I have children and plan to have more," she said. "It's frightening."
Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said such fears are not unfounded. The emissions being pumped out of the small facility include high amounts of toxins, about as much as a large oil refinery, he said.
"This is an issue for the entire Wasatch Front, not just for Foxboro," Moench said.
Foxboro resident Marianne Cone said she has two children whose asthma problems cost her about $1,000 in medical expenses last year, including emergency room visits. Cone has lived less than two blocks away from the Stericycle facility for seven years. When she first bought the house she lives in now, Cone signed a document that acknowledged the facility's presence. But she never expected this level of pollution, she said.
"That's not what we agreed to at all," Cone said. "I have to wonder if my kids' breathing problems aren't caused, or at least exacerbated, by their overpolluting."