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Legislation necessary to enable medical waste handler Stericycle to relocate its incinerating operations to Tooele County cleared a House committee Wednesday with broad support.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is carrying HJR6 to help resolve an expanding battle over waste burning in what has become the school-filled North Salt Lake neighborhood of Foxboro.
"This is a great win for everyone involved," Hughes said.
Stericycle critics, however, contend incineration no longer has a place in waste management, and argue the company should be forced to shut down in light of recent allegations by state regulators that Stericycle violated various provisions of its permit. The company is formally contesting the allegations.
Meanwhile, company officials say incineration is the best way to dispose of a small fraction of medical waste, namely body parts, trace chemotherapy agents and non-hazardous pharmaceuticals. The North Salt Lake plants accepts this kind of waste from several western states and nearly everything else goes to autoclaves elsewhere.
"We provide a vital and necessary waste management service to the health care community in Utah," Stericycle executive Selin Hoboy told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee. "We recognize the neighborhood has grown up around us and it's no longer an ideal location."
Rep. Merrill Nelson, whose district would host the new incinerator, endorsed the proposed move. Medical waste is a necessary byproduct of world-class health care, and Stericyle's violation was its only one in 24 years of operations, said Nelson, R-Grantsville. He characterized it as a "technical violation" that resulted in no harm.
To the company's critics, however, the state's notice of violation reflected multiple abuses that are serious and bring the company's honesty into question.
Later this week, a Senate committee is expected to hear legislation banning medical waste incineration within two miles of a residential area. Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, whose Davis County district includes North Salt Lake, is sponsoring SB196, which would not apply to existing incinerators.
Commercial incineration of medical waste has been consolidated into centralized plants in about a dozen states over the past two decades. However, just one state bans the practice and five others won't issue new permits, Hoboy said.
State law requires approval from the Legislature, the local government and the governor on the siting of any new solid waste facility. Tooele County officials are already on board. They say the proposed location on state land near Rowley is an appropriate place for an incinerator, which will not pose a threat as long as Stericycle complies with standards.
"We have full faith in the established regulatory process. We believe that process will address any prudent concerns regarding real or perceived impacts to the safety of the environment, the company's work force and the general public," County Commissioner Shawn Milne told the committee.