A group of Utah physicians is accusing the governor and the state’s health department of misleading the public about the safety hazards of living near a medical waste incinerator. They are calling on Utah’s hospitals to boycott Stericycle’s North Salt Lake incinerator and stop sending their waste there.
At his monthly KUED news conference, Governor Gary Herbert said it is government’s role to protect the public, and that’s why he has ordered the state health department to conduct an investigation into Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator.
“We’ve asked the Department of Health to go out and analyze on a tiered study what are the health ramifications of Stericycle. Based on the historical documents and the data we have out there, they say that there is no evidence that there is any health concern. But it’s outdated, so we’re going to do a new study with new soil samples and take a look at all the things that are taking place out there currently, and see if there is reason for concern,” Herbert says.
But members of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment say this investigation is misleading. Kimberly Selzman, a cardiologist with the veteran's hospital takes issue with state officials telling people there is no evidence for health concerns. Selzman says soil samples are not a complete representation of what is being released in the air.
“I don’t think it’s a well-founded thing to say that the soil samples don’t appear dangerous and therefore everyone is safe,” Selzman says. “We think there is overwhelming evidence in the US and worldwide that show that these toxins are very dangerous.”
Selzman signed a letter along with other physicians calling on Utah's hospitals to stop sending medical waste to Stericycle's incinerator. The letter cites studies which document the harmful effects of burning medical waste for those living within five kilometers, including greater chances of birth defects and cancer. Officials at the state's largest medical providers - Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah - have already said that they are reviewing their waste procedures. The physicians group is encouraging hospitals to consider emerging technologies to treat medical waste including ozone and chemical disinfectants.