Utah investigates medical waste incinerator

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah has launched a criminal probe and two other misconduct investigations into a medical waste burning facility, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday afternoon.

Herbert asked the Utah attorney general's office on Thursday to investigate any criminal wrongdoing at the at the Stericycle incinerator in North Salt Lake City. The state environmental quality department is also investigating whether Stericycle violated emissions permits, and the state labor commission is investigating possible worker-safety violations.

The investigations were prompted by accusations from a purported former employee who said the company ignored rules about radioactive waste in the plant.

Phone and email messages left with Illinois-based Stericycle were not returned Thursday afternoon.

Earlier this month, advocates held a news conference at the state capitol and played a video featuring an anonymous person who said he was a former worker at the Stericycle facility.

The man, wearing a banana and sunglasses, said the company's supervisors ordered employees to illegally burn radioactive waste instead of shipping it to proper disposal companies. The man said that at the direction of supervisors, employees would not measure medical waste coming in, a practice that would violate state permits.

At the time, Jennifer Koenig, a Stericycle spokeswoman, called the accusations unlikely but said the company was looking into it.

The Stericycle incinerator processes about 7,000 tons of medical waste each year, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality. The waste includes pharmaceuticals, laboratory tools made of plastic and glass, and human tissue and fluid.

Waste from other states is shipped to the North Salt Lake facility for disposal.

Activists and others have criticized Stericycle during the past few years, arguing the incinerator sits in a residential area and routinely releases toxic smoke that threatens public health.

Last year, Herbert called for a health study amid rising concerns about the facility. The study found higher rates of breast and prostate cancer in towns surrounding the facility, but scientists said the results were not definitive because those cancers are not linked to air, water or soil.

Alicia Connell, who is with the group Communities for Clean Air, said the governor's actions Thursday are a minor victory for her group, which wants to see the facility shuttered.

"This is what we've been trying to get them to do from day one," Connell said. "I feel like they're finally taking notice."

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