BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
Clipper Staff Writer
SALT LAKE CITY – Clean air advocates are calling on hospitals and clinics throughout the western United States who send their medical waste to Stericycle to discontinue the practice.
At a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 14, members of Communities for Clean Air and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment presented a letter they will send to customers of Stericycle, asking that the companies consider moving toward finding a safer medical waste alternative.
The letter emphasizes the obligation of health care providers to “do no harm.”
“It is ironic but indefensible for hospitals, clinics and care centers to dispose of their medical waste in a manner that harms community health,” the letter says. “In our opinion this is exactly the current situation in North Salt Lake with the Stericycle incinerator to which your facility may be sending some of its medical waste.”
There are safer alternatives available for disposing of medical waste, the press conference’s hosts said.
They invited three companies that dispose of medical waste without incineration to share their processes. They include a biodegradable, disinfectant-based process and two that use a process using ozone to purify the waste. All three said their processes were safer and, in the long run, less expensive.
A small hospital in Blanding is among facilities already using one of the companies.
The press conference was held at the Salt Lake County government building, where council member Sam Granato told those gathered “We don’t want dirty air. We don’t want that air blowing into Salt Lake County, or even staying in Davis County.”
The effects of Stericycle’s emissions, not only on the health of south Davis County residents but on residents along the entire Wasatch Front, is a concern not only to the Salt Lake County Council, but others involved in the fight to get Stericycle to shut its doors.
“We’re looking at one piece of an enormous puzzle and saying there’s no big picture here,” said Dr. Kim Selzman, a member of UPHE.
That remark was directed at the state of Utah that released the first results of a three-tiered study on Stericycle last week.
The report, that used soil samples from 2003, showed no alarming levels of dioxin.
The state plans additional tests in the area, and a Utah Department of Health spokesman said the study validated the need to look into potential health impacts.
The governor has said the level of pollution hasn’t risen to a level where the state can shut the company down.
“The governor’s actions are bewildering to us,” said Alicia Connell, co-founder of Communities for Clean Air. While Herbert ordered the health study, he has refused to shut the facility down and has refused to meet with her group.
As for what would become of the medical waste the company now incinerates, “There are companies offering new, safer, cleaner options. This should remove the final barrier to correct the mistake made 25 years ago when Stericycle was approved,” Connell said.
Stericycle is under investigation for allegedly exceeding emissions limits, failing to report emissions above what is allowed and rigging stack tests.
The company has denied it violated its permits, but in the face of public outcry, it has begun looking for sites to relocate.
Stericycle is located next to the Foxboro subdivision in North Salt Lake and within easy walking distance of a school. It disposes of medical waste sent in from seven western states.