Salt Lake County Councilman Sam Granato wants his colleagues to ask Gov. Gary Herbert to shut down a North Salt Lake medical-waste incinerator that state regulators allege is releasing too many toxic emissions into the air.
While his fellow council members all decried pollution, they hesitated to back Democrat Granato’s letter-writing bid until they could find out more about what would happen to medical waste generated in the county if the Stericycle disposal site is closed.
Air-quality activists are holding a town hall gathering Saturday in North Salt Lake to discuss how to shut down the Stericycle incinerator. The gathering includes celebrity activist Erin Brockovich and her team of environmental investigators. The group Communities for Clean Air hosts the town hall at 2 p.m. at Foxboro Elementary School, 587 N. Foxboro Drive, followed by a march through the neighborhood to the plant. Find more information at http://communitiesforcleanair.wordpress.com/
"We’re all for clean air," said Republican Councilman Max Burdick, "but are there consequences to just shutting it down?"
Council Chairman Steve DeBry, also a Republican, concurred.
"I’m not educated enough on the topic," he added, instructing council staff to do research about volumes of medical waste generated by hospitals and medical facilities in the county and the availability of other sites to dispose of trash ranging from used syringes and surgical gloves to blood-soaked bandages and body organs.
Granato, who joined the county’s environmental quality advisory board after his election to the council last November, said he was alarmed by state Department of Environmental Quality citations against Stericycle and media reports about excessive emissions coming from the stacks of the company’s incinerator.
Illinois-based Stericycle received violation notices earlier this year from DEQ for exceeding emission limits on nitrogen oxide, dioxins and other hazardous pollutants at its North Salt Lake facility.
"I believe in purifying the air as much as we can," said Granato, adding that even if Stericycle is in Davis County, north winds carry its emissions into Salt Lake County, where they may be breathed by more than 1 million county residents. "We need to protect the citizens of Utah."
Granato’s plea clearly caused some uneasiness among the part-time council members.
Burdick, who makes his living in real estate, questioned closure of the facility when it is a functioning operation, generating power from burning waste.
Democrat Randy Horiuchi said "our opinion is worth something to the governor, but I hate to tell him how to do his job." He suggested "we soften it to [encourage Herbert] to explore every possibility to improve the air quality of the facility."
Jim Bradley, also a Democrat, said he thought it was probably a good idea to shut down the plant because "the way it’s operating now is not in the public interest."
But he acknowledged county officials should know more before entering the fray.
"If there are alternative disposals, that strengthens our argument to ask the governor to shut it down. If there are not alternatives, we can encourage the governor to tighten the regulations on that facility not to let them operate until they bring it up to snuff."
Roy Van Os, an environmental engineer in the state Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, said Stericycle takes in waste from Utah and other states and that there is another incinerator, operated by Clean Harbors, in Aragonite, Tooele County.
The Salt Lake Valley Landfill accepts some medical waste, said director Yianni Ioannou. That includes products from households — such as diabetic needles and diapers — but also commercial waste previously treated in an autoclave to kill pathogens and other some hospital materials, such as soiled bedding and doctors’ gloves.
Council members will consider the matter again on Tuesday.
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