Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Amid Stericycle outcry, University of Utah hospitals rethink waste
Medical waste » Air-quality concerns have the medics weighing whether to abandon N. Salt Lake incinerator.

< Previous Page

But community and public health activists want Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to use his executive authority to shut down the plant, and they’re lobbying hospitals to stop contributing to the problem.

"They will start to see protests in front of their hospitals, which they probably don’t want," said Moench.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Cowley said Intermountain has taken steps to reduce pollution, including transitioning many of its delivery vehicles to natural gas. "Everyone is aware there are air-quality issues along Wasatch Front," he said.

But incineration is the only option for some waste, he said, citing a Utah law requiring that body parts "be disposed by incineration or interment in a location appropriate for human remains." Intermountain has interpreted "appropriate location" to mean a cemetery.

Scott Anderson, director of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, defines it as including landfills. "All of the waste that Stericycle handles could be buried," he said.

The benefit of burning is that it destroys the waste, Anderson said. "Whereas if it’s buried, someone still has it and they have to take care of it."

And should something happen to a landfill, such as it being sold or leachate entering an aquifer, surface water or drinking water, hospitals that generated the waste can be held liable, he said.

The U. uses Stericycle only for "residual chemotherapy" agents, about 40,000 pounds annually of such items as empty IV bags, tubing and contaminated gowns and gloves, said Greg Walters, the U.’s hazardous waste specialist. The relationship dates back to at least 1997, the university says.

Partial chemotherapy doses and experimental medications are shipped to Clean Harbors’ Aragonite facility in Tooele for incineration at hotter temperatures than Stericycle allows, Walters said.

The Aragonite facility is permitted differently than Stericycle, as a hazardous waste, not a solid waste, incinerator.

story continues below
story continues below

"Their kiln burns hotter and they have slew of scrubbers on their stacks," Walters said. They also charge three times more than Stericyle per 50-gallon drum of waste, he said.

Burying chemo waste is an option that would be less expensive than incineration, but it increases the risk of human exposure, he said. "People who [sterilize] it could be exposed and there may be some effluent [toxic chemicals] that go down the drain."

Weighing the trade-offs, environmental groups argue the balance falls in favor of landfills, especially in highly populated areas that struggle with air pollution.

Not all toxins are mitigated by incineration, including heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins, which are created through combustion, said Moench.

"The chemo-incineration argument completely ignores the fact that we are creating new toxic compounds that are horribly carcinogenic and redistributing them across the community in a way that they wouldn’t have been otherwise," said Moench. "There’s absolutely nothing compelling to argue it must be incinerated. ... I think it’s mainly that we’re doing this out of habit."


Twitter: @kirstendstewart

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.