BY REBECCA PALMER
NORTH SALT LAKE — Neighborhood activists who want the medical incinerator plant Stericycle shut down are gaining steam, and last week added groups such as the Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance and Davis County League of Women Voters to their coalition.
Two protests during that time in Salt Lake City have been the biggest yet, and the plant itself put an exclamation point on the issue Friday evening when it had a “bypass event” that let black, smelly smoke escape without going through normal air scrubbing and emissions control systems.
Local dad and coach Aaron Wiley recorded a video of the event, published first by Environews.tv, which has followed the Stericycle issue for at least five years.
At the protest held on Wednesday, Sept. 11, protesters trekked to the Utah Capitol to ask Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to use his executive powers to shut down the plant. He could do so under a portion of Utah’s clean air code, Title 19, Chapter 2, Section 112, which allows emergency shutdowns for “Sources causing imminent danger to health,” they said.
Herbert wasn’t at the meeting, but later his Deputy Chief of Staff Ally Isom released the following statement:
“We certainly share community concern over these emissions. Our agencies are pursuing penalties to the fullest extent of the law. With all the state and our partners are doing to improve air quality, it is distressing when one entity appears less committed to doing its part.”
Neighbors said that during the bypass event last weekend, ash blanketed their lawns and playgrounds and a distinct, foul smell of sulfur and chemicals hung in the air. Many people, including children and athletes competing in a 5K run, ducked for cover, they said. Photos posted online from multiple users portray the event. Find them at facebook.com/groups/UTCleanAirNow.
Calls to Stericycle were not immediately returned.
Anesthesiologist Brian Moench, who heads the Utah Physicians for Clean Air activist group, said that the bypass event, bad as it was, was likely within permit rules.
“That shows how absolutely out of control this situation has become,” he said.
A week before, the grassroots activist group Communities for Clean Air, from Foxboro, took aim at Congressman Chris* Stewart, R-Utah. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, he wants the Environmental Protection Agency to hand over records used as part of the scientific studies on the health affects of dirty air. He also said that new clean air regulations will cost at least $90 billion. The statements brought on a deluge of criticism.
“I believe in science, I don’t believe in Stericycle,” read the protest sign of C. Eileen Malquist, who is confined to a wheelchair since she was allegedly poisoned in Juab County. She wants to protect others from the same fate.
That protest was held at the Corrine and Jack Sweet Library in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood, and the dozens of activists who attended completely overwhelmed the space, which Stewart scheduled for a town hall meeting. About 100 people stood among the stacks, waiting to be let into the meeting room where Stewart spoke.
Later, Stewart said in an interview with the Clipper that he isn’t against the EPA science.
“I can’t disagree with it because I haven’t seen it,” he said. “The caricature that people have created is that I am anti-science and that I’m against the EPA and that’s not it at all.”
The meeting was held in the small venue because it had been planned by another group a month ahead of time, Stewart said. Since then, he has set up seven appointments with environmental activists in his office, he said.
“That’s a far better venue,” he said. “Let’s talk there when we have time and when other people aren’t distracting.”
Despite the fact that the EPA oversees the Stericycle permit by way of the Utah Division of Air Quality, Stewart declined to wade into the issue.
“We really haven’t studied it Р the reason we haven’t is because it’s a state issue,” he said. “One of the things that we’ve always said is that we want to empower the state as much as we can.”
Environmental groups around the state are joining Communities for Clean Air in calling for a complete shutdown of the plant.
“We know the toxic releases from Stericycle are hazardous to human health,” said Cherise Udell, president of Utah Moms for Clean Air. “DAQ knows it. Gov. Herbert knows it. Stericycle knows it. Allowing the Stericycle medical incinerator in North Salt Lake to remain operating in our community is nothing less than condoning a form of modern-day human sacrifice in the name of profit.”
Stericycle’s 2009 permit expires in February of 2014, and the Utah Division of Air Quality is considering penalties against the plant because it emitted too much nitrogen oxide for almost 18 months, was found to falsify records, was found to have deviated from normal practices to improve test results and failed a test for dioxin emissions. It has since come into compliance.
*Republican Congressman Chris Stewart defended himself against anti-science claims. This article has been updated to spell his name correctly.