BY REBECCA PALMER
NORTH SALT LAKE — For Utah Division of Air Quality Compliance Officer Harold Burge, the trouble with medical incinerator Stericycle is all part of a days’ work.
“I just really feel bad for the residents,” he said after a recent meeting of the state’s air quality board. “Here they are, they’ve purchased their homes and they’ve got a group of doctors telling them they’re going to die or have terrible things happen to them.”
The air quality agency is very concerned about Stericycle and the violations it has committed and is likely to issue fines, but doesn’t see the medical incinerator as a major polluter.
“If we thought there was an imminent health hazard, nobody would be there,” Burge said. “But when you listen to somebody get up and say we’ve had these health problems and these doctors over here keep telling us how bad this is, I’d be panicked, I’d be upset.”
Burge added that his agency is more concerned about Stericycle’s illegal emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOX) than it is about its dioxin/furan emissions, although the latter is more dangerous. That’s because the NOx emissions went on from at least December of 2011 until spring of this year, but the dioxin emission tests failed only once.
Burge also pointed out that Stericycle emits less than half a pound of dioxin/furan a year.
“There are lots of sources of dioxin/furan and everybody has dioxin in their body,” he said, adding that the science to determine the danger level of various amounts of dioxin is very complicated.
“I know the residents are worked up,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of panic and fear involved, and having a group of doctors or Greeanaction or somebody let you know constantly, ‘hey this stuff will kill ya.’ Й I feel bad for the residents.”
Senator Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has attended the meetings and protests about Stericycle, and started in politics with a fight against the oil refinery that exploded within two miles of his home.
He pledged to run a bill that would further restrict Stericycle if that’s what his constituents wanted, but said at the town hall meeting last month that it wouldn’t get very far in the Utah legislature because it would be seen as anti-business.
“I don’t want to blow a bunch of false hope into you,” he said. “I am your side. I am an advocate, but I also want to be realistic.”
For its part, Stericycle has pledged to fully comply with the notice of violation it received in June. The company also volunteered to do yearly stack testing for the next three years, instead of once every three-to-five years, as required by law.
In a June 14 letter to the air division, the company wrote that it has already installed a non-catalytic reduction control unit, has fixed a broken scrubber that might have contributed to the bad tests and will better control the amount of waste it burns so as not to violate dioxin rules and, among other things.