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TOOELE — Area residents urged their state lawmakers to hold a medical waste incineration company’s “feet to the fire” as the Utah Legislature considers a resolution that could be the start of Stericycle relocating to Tooele County.
The Utah House could vote as early as Monday on HJR6, a resolution that would allow the company to relocate from North Salt Lake to a site west of Tooele.
“We are counting on you not to downplay the negatives and to hold Stericycle’s feet to the fire,” said Jewell Allen, founder of Tooele County Citizens for Clean Air, at a town hall meeting Saturday.
The meeting, held at the county health department offices, included a presentation by Stericyle officials, remarks by Reps. Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, and Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, and public comment.
Selin Hoboy, Stericycle’s vice president of government affairs, said its Davis County facility was in place years before a residential subdivision and elementary school were permitted to become its neighbors. Stericycle fought against allowing Foxboro subdivision to develop next door but it lost the battle, she said.
“It has become a land use conflict. We are at this point looking for a new location,” she said.
But some people attending the town meeting questioned the health and environmental risks of placing the plant in Tooele County.
Sagers passed out a press release from the Utah Department of Health that reported the outcome of its analysis of 35 years of cancer data in the area surrounding the Stericycle facility in North Salt Lake.
“The results did show some elevated cancer numbers, none of which are attributable to environmental exposures,” it said.
The plant emits very low levels of emissions, Hoboy explained, the hourly equivalent of six diesel trucks on a highway for an hour. A new plant would employ state-of-the-art technology that would substantially reduce emissions, she said.
We are counting on you (lawmakers) not to downplay the negatives and to hold Stericycle's feet to the fire.
–Jewell Allen, Tooele County Citizens for Clean Air
The industry is heavily regulated by federal, state and local agencies, she said.
“There’s a lot of concern no one's been watching these guys. That’s not necessarily true,” Hoboy said.
But Kim Clausing, of Stansbury, said she has become increasingly concerned that cutbacks in Tooele County’s budget and reductions in federal funding will result in insufficient government oversight of the facility.
“The checks and balances get left out when there are financial constraints on things,” she said.
Some speakers wondered if the plant might be a financial boon to the county in terms of tipping fees, permits, new jobs or even the cogeneration of electrical power.
Tooele County resident Jeff McNeill said it was doubtful that houses would be built around the proposed site. Moreover, it will be heavily regulated.
“I’d encourage you to vote yes. They’re not going to move in tomorrow,” he said.
Hoboy said the resolution would have to pass the Legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. Stericycle would also have to obtain permits from state and local governments. The state will impose more stringent controls for a Tooele County operation than its benchmarks in south Davis County.
Any additional emissions are a concern, she said. “When you look at the stringent requirements we’re going to be under, it’s going to be very minimal,” Hoboy said.
Some people, like Tooele County resident Rachel Hester, were unconvinced.
“How are we to trust that you are going to do things according to the law when you were clearly trying to cover up that you hadn’t?” Hester asked.
Stericycle is appealing a violation citation issued by state regulators contending its North Salt Lake facility breached pollution thresholds allowed under the company’s permit and that it manipulated logs to mischaracterize the volume of its business. Federal regulators also are investigating the alleged log alterations.
Nelson said the town meeting was very valuable for him and Sagers.
“I hope it’s been helpful for them (their constituents), too. We want to make decisions that are fact based,” he said.