Medical waste company Stericycle is leaving Utah; ‘Hallelujah,’ says eco-activist

Keith Johnson | Tribune File Photo Stericycle, located in North Salt Lake, is a hazardous medical waste disposal company. Photographed January 21, 2014.

The controversial medical waste disposal company Stericycle has decided to move out of Utah rather than build a new incinerator in Tooele County.

Representatives of the Illinois-based company met Wednesday with officials from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and informed the state that it would not be moving its dilapidated North Salt Lake incinerator to Tooele County, ending a fight that has raged among the company, the government and environmental activists for six years.

“Hallelujah,” said Alicia Connell, a Farmington real estate agent who became a reluctant activist, leading protests after Stericycle was caught not informing residents about the amount of emissions from its North Salt Lake incinerator.

“It became evident to them it would become too expensive” to build the Tooele County facility, said Allan Moore, solid waste program manager for the state’s Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control, one of the officials at Wednesday’s meeting.

“It really became very financially challenging for us to move on with this facility,” Stericycle spokeswoman Jennifer Koenig said Friday. In particular, getting water to a site in the desert of Tooele County was “very cost-prohibitive in the end.”

“I’m surprised it took them so many years to figure out that [a Tooele County site] would not be cost-effective,” Connell said Friday.

The company instead is looking at a site in Nevada, north of Las Vegas, Moore said Friday. The company will clean up the North Salt Lake site, he said.

Koenig said the North Salt Lake incinerator will be closed within the next three years. It will continue to be used, she added, as a transfer station for trucks carrying medical waste to another Stericycle facility — the nearest being in Kansas City, Kan.

Connell raised concerns about the truck traffic coming in and out of the North Salt Lake location. “What are the unintended consequences of keeping a transfer station there?” she asked.

About 50 people work at the North Salt Lake facility, Koenig said. They will be offered packages, including positions with other Stericycle operations, she said.

Under a 2014 settlement with the state, Stericycle is required to leave its North Salt Lake location and relocate to a remote location in Tooele County. The deal included a $2.3 million fine against the company, which would be cut in half when the move was completed. Moore said officials have not yet determined whether Stericycle can still get back that half of the fine.

Utah officials cited Stericycle in 2014 for exceeding emission limits and for not reporting those violations as required by the state. Stericycle’s actions prompted a slew of protests — one of them featuring the national advocate Erin Brockovich — that spurred Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature to act in 2014.

The environmental watchdog group HEAL Utah praised Stericycle’s planned departure.

“Given Stericycle’s troubling history here in Utah, along with the Wasatch Front’s air pollution problem and Tooele County’s ongoing hazardous waste activity, it’s best that this company moves its operations elsewhere,” HEAL Utah said in a statement. "We believe, however, that with the increasing expansion of northern Utah’s population and businesses, that the potential jobs created by Stericycle’s planned move will be found elsewhere and in safer industries.”