Environmental activist Erin Brockovich is turning her attention to North Salt Lake City. At the request of residents, Brockovich and her team have decided to conduct an independent investigation into air pollution violations by Stericycle and the company’s medical waste incinerator. Angry residents and activists are protesting in front of Stericycle Thursday evening demanding that Governor Gary Herbert shut it down.
Erin Brockovich wanted to be at the protest, but she’s currently in Australia working on another case. Environmental investigator Robert Bowcock works with Brockovich and he says, among the thousands of requests they get from all over the world, they decided to help the residents of North Salt Lake.
“We believe that Stericycle has been polluting the community and the environment extensively for years outside of their operating permit, and they didn’t get caught until they actually went for a renewal process, where the regulators said wait a minute, you’re outside your permit now, you probably have been for several years,” Bowcock says. “That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for, and then just trying to understand exactly what pollution this community has been exposed to.”
Bowcock says he will be interviewing past employees, analyzing records, and looking at permit processes. A major concern to Bowcock is that residents were allowed to purchase homes and move in just feet away from the incinerator.
“Because of that, because of the fact that they are out of compliance with their permit today, because of the fact that they are sophisticated, they’re a knowing polluter, I think we do need to go into an immediate shutdown, an investigation, and then let them go through a reapplication for their permit,” Bowcock says. “I think the elected officials, the regulatory community, because of the violations that have taken place, they need to shut them down.”
The Utah Division of Air Quality issued Stericycle a notice of violation in May for pollution and record-keeping violations. Governor Gary Herbert’s spokesperson Ally Isom says the state is doing it all it can within the bounds of the law to make sure the public is protected.
“All options are on the table at this time,” Isom says. “There are some confines legally that we have as a government agency, so we have to abide by the law and follow due process, but those processes have been initiated and are underway.”
The state has given Stericycle a second extension until August 30th to decide if it will legally challenge the citations before assessing penalties.