SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's only medical waste incinerator crossed a key hurdle Friday with state regulators issuing air quality and solid waste permits for the company's planned move to Tooele County.
Stericycle, which operates in North Salt Lake, must now receive multiple permits from Tooele County and approval from the governor for any construction to begin, which will take a minimum of three years to complete.
"It is definitely a big milestone for us now that we have these air quality and solid waste permits behind us," said company spokeswoman Jennifer Koenig.
Under the permits, twin incinerators at the new facility will have the capability of processing 4,100 pounds of hospital, medical and infectious waste per hour. The facility's maximum capacity will be 18,000 tons of waste per year, or just over 49 tons per day, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
The facility will be constructed on a 40-acre parcel of land owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration roughly 10 miles from the nearest home and 25 miles from Grantsville.
Stericycle ran awry of environmental groups and many of its surrounding neighbors after a series of stack tests from its North Salt Lake plant showed emission limits over acceptable levels. Regulators from the Utah Division of Air Quality found that company logs had been doctored, prompting a criminal investigation.
Stericycle was issued a $2.3 million fine and during complex negotiations agreed to move its plant from the increasingly populated area of North Salt Lake to a remote area in Tooele County.
Koenig said in the ensuing years the company has worked hard to improve its operations and stay within the bounds of its permits.
"It's been 35 months since we have had a bypass event," she said, which is the inadvertent and excess release of emissions. "We've made signficant improvements and it shows."
Groups such as Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and Communities for Clean Air pushed hard for Gov. Gary Herbert to order the closure of the plant and pressed for it to leave Utah altogether.
Stericycle is the only commercial medical waste incinerator serving Utah and seven other Western states, providing a viable disposal option for hospitals, clinics and other facilities, according to the company.
About 10 percent of the medical waste in the United States is incinerated. Koenig said 31 states require incineration of certain medical waste.
"This service is essential to support the continuity and reliability of our health care system," she said.
Koenig added that the company has had community meetings in Tooele to educate residents about the $15 million plant that will be coming to their area.
"I certainly think we have tried to be accessible and address their concerns," she said. "The current facility has been operating very well, which I think helps."