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State regulators already have cited Stericycle's medical waste incinerator in North Salt Lake for violating pollution and record-keeping standards, and soon their attention will turn to fines.
"Penalties, I'd say, are a certainty," said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality on Monday.
Last week his office issued a notice of violation against the Illinois-based company for exceeding its permitted emissions of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to Utah's summer- and winter-pollution problems, and state limits on dioxins, furans and hydrochloric acid, which are hazardous air pollutants. The company has until next week to report on how it will make sure the lapses don't happen again, and then regulators will determine penalties.
Stericycle did not respond to calls seeking comment on the state's May 28 notice of violation. Its state permits allow the incinerator to burn as much as 2,500 pounds per hour and treat about 7,000 tons of medical waste per year from throughout the West.
In recent years, air-quality regulators have come under fire for allowing the incinerator to continue operating in an area where homes have sprouted all over the surrounding area.
Incineration of hospital waste has fallen out of favor nationwide. The number of commercial incinerators have been cut from more than 2,000 two decades ago to just over a dozen today.
Bird noted that the Stericycle-North Salt Lake violations covered issues that the state and the company have been wrangling over since late 2011. State regulators discovered the problems while reviewing quarterly reports, checking incident reports and conducting an on-site inspection.
They saw red flags when, for instance, they noticed "abnormally uniform" inputs during a series of "stack tests" in December 2011. Under normal operation, the inputs vary, said Bird.
The company also failed to mention the lapses on its quarterly monitoring reports to the air-quality division, according to the violation letter.
Bird noted that the excessive emissions weren't terribly high.
"But there are actually people living at the property lines" who are affected by the emissions, said Bird. "The company gets extra scrutiny because of that."
Brian Moench, founder of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said the facility should be shut down because of the excessive pollution emissions and evidence of falsified documents.
"This presents a perfect opportunity," he said, "for everyone in the immediate area and the surrounding community to say this business should not be conducted in the most populated areas of the Wasatch Front."
Cecilee Price-Huish, who's raised concerns in the past about polluting industries along the Salt Lake-Davis county line, said she was pleased that state regulators persisted even after the company tried to cover up the violations. She said this enforcement will help build the public's confidence and trust in the Department of Environmental Quality to carry out its mission to protect people and the environment.
"It's fantastic that the state is taking these emissions violations seriously," she said. "Hopefully, the penalty will be significant enough to serve as a deterrent."