Anti-pollution crusader Erin Brockovich joins fight in Utah
Incinerator battle • New allies give neighborhood activists a boost.
Published: August 16, 2013 10:42AM
Updated: February 14, 2014 11:32PM
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Paul Fraughton | Tribune file photo Representatives from Stericycle speak to residents at a community meeting last June on the medical waste incinerator.

The campaign to shut down a North Salt Lake medical-waste incinerator has gained new steam, now that the team of famed consumer advocate Erin Brockovich has signed on to help.

“There’s an elementary school just up the street, for crying out loud,” said Bob Bowcock, an investigator who’s worked with Brockovich since before the release of the 2000 hit movie that made her story of dogged pollution fighting famous.

“I wouldn’t let the dog pound move next door,” he added. “This company is a notorious polluter in multiple states.”

Neither Bowcock nor Brockovich was able to attend a protest planned Thursday outside Stericycle’s incinerator, where it burns medical waste from throughout the West.

But Alicia Connell, a homeowner leading the campaign to shut down the site, said the involvement of Bowcock and Brockovich has energized her and the effort to put a stop to the needless exposure of nearby residents to the poisonous emissions from the plant.

“It tells me I’m fighting a good fight,” she said, “an important fight.”

One idea that’s already come up from the collaboration is for instant notification of neighbors when Stericycle releases excess pollution.

“Then we can take steps to actually protect our kids,” Connell said.

The company did not immediately return a request for comment.

Thursday’s protest was slated to include local activists who also want to see the incinerator shut down, such as HEAL Utah and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, along with California-based Green Action.

While concerns about the incinerator have been raised periodically over the years, the drumbeat has gotten stronger in recent months, since the Utah Division of Air Quality issued a violation notice against Stericycle in May for record-keeping violations and excess emissions, including higher-than-permitted releases of cancer-causing dioxins.

The company has been granted an extension until the end of August to request a hearing on the violations, and Stericycle representatives insist the plant has been in compliance since the spring. Meanwhile, state officials have said federal investigators are looking into possible charges.

Meanwhile, area residents have stepped up their own watchdog efforts, filming worrisome releases from the incinerator’s stacks and posting those videos online.

Bowcock visited with Connell and other concerned neighbors on Saturday. And now he sees potential issues regarding the decisions that led to homes being built right up to Stericycle’s property line, as well as the enforcement of state law and the excess emissions of harmful chemicals.

“We will help the community with their investigation and help the regulators stay on task, and we will investigateany pattern of wrongdoing at the facility,” he said in a telephone interview. “Our objective would be to help them help themselves.”

Brockovich was out of the country, and Bowcock had to be in a Los Angeles court Thursday, so they could not attend the protest, the investigator said.

“We’re both going to be at the next one.”

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah