Utah medical waste incinerator proposes doubling production


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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A medical waste burning plant that is leaving North Salt Lake City after being cited for toxic emissions wants to more than double production at a new facility in a rural part of the state.

Stericycle Inc. is proposing to burn 18,000 tons of medical waste per year at a future site in Tooele County — up from 7,000 tons per year at the current site, according to details state environmental regulators posted online Monday. The new facility would have two incinerators compared with just one at the current site.

The plan is pending approval from state regulators.

In December, Stericycle agreed to pay Utah a $2.3 million fine and move its facility. That was part of a settlement after state officials found Stericycle exceeded emissions limits over 13 months in 2011-2012. The fine was the largest ever issued by the state's division of air quality.

Stericycle would only pay half of the fine if it moves its plant to Tooele County within three years of getting necessary permits.

The company's proposed plans were submitted to the state in February for a site that is about 45 miles west of Salt Lake City, said Donna Spangler, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

The new facility is in an area with cleaner air, where state regulators don't have to be as strict, Spangler said. This new location is an industrial area away from neighborhoods, whereas the current facility is near a residential area.

State engineers are reviewing the plan, and when they reach parameters that are acceptable, the public will have an opportunity to weigh in, Spangler said. State officials posted highlights of the plan online in an effort to be transparent, she said.

"We don't know if it's something we would approve or not," Spangler said.

Jennifer Koenig, a spokeswoman for Lake Forest, Illinois-based Stericycle, said the increase has long been planned to allow the company to meet an expected increase in demand for its services. The increased demand is being driven by advances in health care and increased regulations on drug disposal, Koenig said.

The company is aiming to open the facility in 2019 at a cost $10 million to $15 million, she said.

Clean air advocacy groups are pleased the incinerator is moving away from the populated Salt Lake City area but would like to see it go away completely.

Dr. Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said he was surprised to hear about the plans to increase production significantly.

"We think it's inappropriate to have these kinds of facilities anywhere," Moench said. "We hope that when they move they don't have any customers."

In response to critics that don't want the facility anywhere in Utah, Koenig said incinerator facilities such as Stericycle are a necessary function to prevent medical waste from getting into groundwater.

In September, Gov. Gary Herbert asked the state attorney general's office to investigate any criminal wrongdoing at the Stericycle incinerator.

Missy Larsen, a spokeswoman for Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, said Monday that the office is assisting the U.S. attorney's office, which is taking the lead on the investigation.

It's unclear exactly what they're reviewing and how far along the probe is.

Larsen deferred comment to the U.S. attorney's office in Utah. Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment.

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Brady McCombs

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