North Salt Lake residents are stepping up pressure to close a medical waste incinerator in their neighborhood. Environmental and health advocates are joining them in a protest outside Stericycle’s incinerator Tuesday evening, and representatives from the group will be meeting with the Director of the state’s Division of Air Quality to voice their concerns Wednesday morning. Among the protestors concerns is the use of a bypass stack which allows the company to release unfiltered, toxic pollutants like dioxin and mercury directly into the air.
On April 5th this year, there was a power outage in the Foxboro neighborhood adjacent to Stericycle. Resident Natasha Hincks Henderson was curious what would happen at the incinerator, which burns medical waste 24 hours a day. She stepped out of her house armed with a camera.
“I looked out my backyard, and I see the huge black smoke coming out of their bypass stack. That was going out into our neighborhood for 20 minutes, and that has no filters. You know we’re breathing that, and it had huge flames coming out of the stack,” Hincks Henderson says. “That’s one more incident after another. We’re very concerned.”
Stericycle’s bypass stack is used when there are power outages, as well as during startup and shutdown. It’s a safety precaution to prevent a fire or melting of the facility. The incinerator bypasses the usual emission controls - which require electricity - and releases the exhaust through an unfiltered stack. The company is required to report these unplanned incidents to the state. Utah Division of Air Quality Director Bryce Bird confirmed the April 5th incident.
“That is one of the things we’ll be talking to the company about. These bypass events are rare, but they are uncontrolled when they happen. Basically it opens and bypasses the emissions controls that are designed to capture and control those emissions that we’re most concerned about,” Bird tells KUER.
Reports on the state’s website reveal that there were 10 such incidents last year, totaling about 9 hours of unfiltered emissions. Bird says these uses of the bypass stack are legal, but the state may require Stericycle to use an emergency generator or to install some sort of emissions controls in the bypass stack. He says these conditions could be imposed instead of penalty payments for previous infractions. Stericycle has already been issued a notice of violation for exceeding emission standards of the extremely toxic pollutant dioxin, and for falsifying its emissions tests. The company has until the end of this month to challenge these allegations before penalties are assessed.