BY REBECCA PALMER
NORTH SALT LAKE — Reports that medical waste incinerator Stericycle, Inc. has exceeded its legal emissions limits and that it falsified reports about those violations have many people in nearby Foxboro neighborhood concerned for their health and the health of their kids.
In fact, many would like the incinerator shut down for good, or converted to a steam sterilization system known as autoclaving.
But for local mom, activist and Realtor Alicia Connell, marching up and down the street in front of the plant isn’t the answer — at least not yet.
“You can’t protest without trying to do it civilly first,” she said.
Instead, she has helped organize a public meeting that will be held tonight, June 27, at 7 p.m. at city hall, 10 E. Center Street. Senator Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, have said they would attend, along with representatives from the Utah Division of Air Quality and the governor’s office. Stericycle has also been invited, and told Connell on Thursday that its representatives plan to attend.
Stericycle’s violations include emissions of five times the amounts of dioxin and twice the amount of nitrogen oxides during one test, as documented in a May 28 letter from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
Dioxins are known to cause some cancers, increase risk for others and have ill effects on reproduction and growth. If fetuses are exposed during vital times in development, the immune system can be compromised, according to one 1995 study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Nitrogen oxides also carry risk. When inhaled, the compounds can aggravate respiratory problems such as emphysema or bronchitis and may aggravate heart disease, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Connell, who has sometimes been called “Queen of Foxboro,” has lived in the neighborhood for nine years, except for a short stint to help care for her mother. She and her family are living in Farmington now. Connell runs a produce co-op there on weekends as well as a community garage sale and has been involved in neighborhood watch and much more, she said. Her children go to schools there.
Her job also puts her on the line, and she's concerned for the health and welfare of her clients throughout Utah.
“I’m a Realtor with Coldwell and I’ve sold a lot of those houses,” she said, “these are my clients.”
Even more importantly, she’s Mom to a girl and two boys, one of whom was sick so often she had to buy a breathing machine for him. She didn’t document when his worst episodes occurred, however, and is not comfortable blaming the problems on Stericycle.
The same goes for high rates of autism in the neighborhood С she doesn’t want to directly link it, saying one plausible explanation for high rates is that Spectrum Academy there has led to families with those problems gravitating to the area.
“I think the frustration with most people I talked to is, they (allegedly) lied,” Connell said. “They’re hiding, which doesn’t give us warm fuzzies, by the way. It makes it worse.”
Stericycle bought out BFI Medical Waste in November of 1999, and property tax records show that the building went up in 1992. Foxboro subdivision wasn’t built until about 10 years ago.
One resident, who asked not to be named, was one of the first to build in the neighborhood. She knew about the plant at the time, but figured that if the land had been approved for housing, the incinerator must be safe.
In recent years, however, she’s seen signs of trouble.
“There have been times that the black smoke has come out of there, and flames,” she said, pointing to the highest of three stacks on the building. “I’ve had to shut my doors.”
She described the smell that comes during those times as “just nauseous.”
But for neighbor Melissa Stone, it’s not a big deal, she said while watching her toddler play at a park within about a block of the plant.
“I’m not really concerned about it because all the materials are being incinerated, so it’s highly unlikely that things are going in the air that are worse than the refineries Й If there were more evidence, I might be concerned.”
Weiler is still learning about Stericycle, he said, but had a meeting with company officials at the plant Wednesday morning.
“I want to be fully informed and not just respond to public clamor,” he said.
The senator is aware that many of his constituents are angry, but said the legislature doesn’t have any authority to shut the plant down. The air quality division and executive branch would be responsible for that if it’s necessary, he said.
Since it received warning from the air quality division, Stericycle has installed new pollution reduction equipment and tests have shown compliance with all emission limits, according to documentation from the division. The results cited were from April 10 of this year.
For Connell, the problems with Stericycle are ones that everyone should pay attention to who lives in the “bowl” of the Wasatch Front.
“I need everybody involved here, not just Foxboro,” she said. “The air doesn’t stop here.”
Much of the debate on this issue has taken place on a Facebook group page “Communities for Clean Air.” You can also find a petition about it on change.org or can contact the group at CommunityForCleanAir@gmail.com.
Dioxin emissions and medical waste incinerators in the U.S.
Dioxin comes from combustion of products that contain chlorine, such as PVC, plastic, solvents and pesticides.
In 1997, there were more than 2,400 medical waste incinerators in the U.S., according to a Wisconsin clean air group that studied the issue. However, by 2010, in order to meet the escalating costs associated with operating these highly regulated incinerators, only 57 remained operational and of those, only 14 are available for commercial use.
More than 90 percent of all potentially infectious medical waste is incinerated. Stericycle is the only such incinerator in the region and accepts waste from nine western states.
This article has been updated to reflect accurate information about Connell and her positions on the issue.