Clipper Staff Writer
NORTH SALT LAKE — Environmental activist Erin Brockovich delivered the hard-hitting message Foxboro residents wanted to hear on Saturday — a message that they are not alone in their fight to shut down or move a medical waste facility in their community.
She and her investigative team then led the crowd on the short walk from the school to the Stericycle facility, 90 N. 1100 West, carrying signs like the one that read: “Stericycle: mercury, dioxins, pathogens, served hot daily.”
“I am here today to be your support, to be a cheerleader and to tell you positively without a shadow of doubt you are on the right track,” she told a standing-room-only crowd at Foxboro Elementary School.
Stericycle incinerates medical waste from seven western states and is the only facility of its type in the west. In May, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality issued a violation notice to the company for exceeding emission limits on nitrogen oxide, dioxins and other hazardous pollutants.
The company faces potential fines from the state’s Division of Air Quality for violations that occurred between December 2001 and April 2013, according to the division.
Brockovich took on Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1993 for contaminating groundwater in a small California town. Her story was later made into a movie.
Since that initial fight, Brockvich has been among the leading voices nationwide for environmental causes. She’s seen the number of causes increase through the years.
“Something’s happening around the nation. People are standing up and using their voices,” in the fight for the environment, she said.
Time after time, the fight against companies that pollute “is led by one mom or several moms who reach out into the community,” she said, referring to Alicia Connell and Natasha Hincks, who started the group “Communities for Clean Air” in North Salt Lake.
That’s because mothers are generally the first to know if their family’s health is in jeopardy, she said.
That health message was echoed again and again on Saturday.
“Stericycle should be renamed Poison Factory,” Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment told the gathering. “I know that sounds harsh, but there’s no other appropriate way to describe it.”
Moench said one millionth of a gram of some of the substances Stericycle releases into the atmosphere can cause cancer.
Robert Bowcock, with Brockovich’s investigative team, said the North Salt Lake plant initially applied for a permit to burn approximately 1,300 pounds of waste per hour, but before the plant even opened, it applied to burn 1,850 pounds per hour, using the same equipment. Then, the amount the company asked to burn rose to 2,500 pounds per hour. “Now they’re burning about 100 percent more than they were originally designed for,” he said.
“You know in your heart and soul when something is wrong with your family and something is wrong with your child,” Brockovich said. “We have no business burning biohazardous waste on top of people.”
Brockovich and her team asked those attending the meeting to fill out a confidential questionnaire about their health, work, homes and lifestyles.
North Salt Lake has had some discussions with Stericycle about the possibility of moving, the city’s Mayor Len Arave said. He told the gathering the city doesn’t have the resources to undertake requiring it to move or shut its doors. However, Arave said the city is working with state legislators on a solution and told the gathering he believes that’s the best approach.