Erin Brockovich and her team of environmental activists have made their presence known to North Salt Lake officials. An investigator who works with Brockovich spoke to city councilors and the mayor Tuesday night, asking them to exert some local control and help protect citizens from the air pollution emitted by Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator.
North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arave is aware that Stericycle has been issued a notice of violation by the state’s Division of Air Quality, that they have exceeded permitted levels of toxic pollutants, including dioxin, furan, and nitrogen oxide. And he’s aware that nearby residents are very concerned about miscarried babies, developmental delays, and other health problems, but he says it’s not in his hands at this point.
“We hear the same reports that everybody else hears, and we’re concerned. We don’t want our citizens to be unsafe. I think for the most part we have to rely on institutions that have jurisdiction, which is really the Division of Air Quality and the state,” Arave says.
But members of Erin Brockovich’s team say there are things city officials can do to help protect residents.
“We’re coming to you tonight at the public comment period in order for you to begin the process of considering some regulation that you have on the local level over Stericycle,” says Robert Bowcock, an investigator from Brockovich’s team. He asked city officials to consider a system to alert nearby schools and citizens when Stericycle is using its bypass stack, which emits unfiltered pollutants when it’s in use. Stericycle claims that it uses the bypass stack in emergencies a few times a year, but nearby residents report seeing it in use a few times a week. Mayor Len Arave said an alert system sounded like a reasonable request and directed the City Manager to look into it. Bowcock says it’s a foot in the door.
“What we were asking is that those things that do have local control and local jurisdiction, that the city council consider those. I think those were very well received. I think that they’re actually going to look at their conditional use permit, and require some notification, and require some community involvement, and that will help reveal some of the illicit activity of this corporation,” Bowcock says.
In the meantime, the state Division of Air Quality has modified their notice of violation to Stericycle, raising the potential penalties. The new notice gives DAQ the authority to collect up to 10,000 dollars a day for every day the incinerator was out of compliance with its permit. After the first alleged violation in December 2011, Stericycle was not able to demonstrate compliance for more than a year. The reissuance of the notice gives Stericycle officials an additional month to decide if they will challenge the alleged violations. The state previously granted two 30-day extensions to the company to respond to the initial notice.