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Stericycle owners plan to more than double the amount of medical waste they burn if they open a new incinerator in Tooele County.
Documents filed with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality propose incinerating up to 17,500 tons a year far more than the 7,200 tons the company has handled in recent years at its North Salt Lake plant.
The proposed permit also would allow the company to emit more pollution.
Tooele County Citizens for Clean Air founder Jewel Allen said Stericycle's request will only build opposition to the company's potential new home.
"Already, their move into our county as part of a violation settlement was demeaning," Allen said. "They will not win favors with this proposal."
Last year, Stericycle officials agreed to a $2.3 million fine to resolve allegations that the company's incinerator violated emission limits and that employees rigged a stack test to suggest emissions were less than they really were.
The North Salt Lake incinerator is surrounded by a new subdivision called Foxboro, where homeowners organized to oppose the company and prod state leaders to negotiate the move.
State air-quality regulators agreed to waive half the record-setting penalty if the Illinois-based waste processor relocates its Utah operations away from populated areas.
Once the state issues permits for the new plant, the incinerator has three years to move.
Stericycle managers plan to develop a 40-acre parcel the company will buy from the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
The site is on the west shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rowley, an area with few residences, but near other heavy industries, including a major landfill.
Still, the company's critics are not satisfied with the proposed move. Many would rather see Utah put an end to the incineration of medical and infectious waste and pharmaceuticals.
"This is bad not only for the residents of Tooele Valley, but also for Salt Lake County," said Tim Wagner, from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. "We are downwind from this new facility. It seems to be contradictory of all our effort to clean up the Salt Lake Valley's airshed.
"All the proposed clients of Stericycle should look for alternative ways to process waste," Wagner added, "instead of continuing to feed into this business model."
But Stericycle marketing vice president Jennifer Koenig said the company's request for increased capacity reflects a growing demand for its services.
Company officials have said in the past that they process as much waste as possible using autoclaves, pressurized steam chambers. But, they say, incineration is the only alternative for some types of waste.
"Here in Utah especially, with advanced treatments for cancer, there are wastes that require incineration trace chemotherapy, pathological waste and unused pharmaceuticals," Koenig said. "You want those destroyed, chemically altered, not just diluted with water."
Stericycle operates six incinerators around the nation. The Utah plant takes material including illegal drugs and food-service waste from international flights from across the West.
The proposed plant would have two automated waste feed systems, each capable of processing one ton of waste per hour, 24 hours a day.
The proposal features dual incinerators equipped with a two-stage combustion process and selective noncatalytic reduction pollution controls. Each would be equipped with "best available control technology," keeping annual emission of hazardous air pollutants to around 2 tons, according to the Division of Air Quality.
That's still 25 percent more than the North Salt Lake plant is allowed to emit under its latest permit, which includes a number of upgrades.
The proposed permit would nearly double nitrogen oxides emissions to 28 tons and quadruple emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, to more than 1 ton. Emissions of fine particulates, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide would likewise increase.
Allen said she and others are depending on state air-quality watchdogs to protect Tooele County.
"We urge DAQ and our county leaders to keep Stericycle's output allowance to their present production or less, if they are granted their permit, so that our airshed is not harmed further," she said. "We also expect a rigorous public vetting process."