On September 6th, I walked outside with my 2 year-old son to relish the feeling of being surrounded by a cloudy, misty early evening sky. It was like something one might see when hiking in high mountains, or on an incredibly foggy, wet day. One minute the skies were sunny and clear, and the next minute there was a fog so thick, I thought I was in a dream. I sat in a lounge chair and snuggled my son, telling him about the weather and enjoying the change from our typical sunny, hot days. Little did I know, the thick haze was not only a wet, cold front pushing through the city, but bypassed medical waste that had incinerated with such strength, it followed a front through the city, choking Utah’s residents.
Stericycle, a Utah based medical waste incinerating plant, has been under fire for illegal activity and toxic air emissions. The company, located next to residential neighboring communities in North Salt Lake, was caught for providing false records and consequently, in violation by the Environmental Protection Agency for illegally emitting more waste than reported. In May of 2013, the EPA fined Stericycle for giving false record, incinerating more medical waste and emitting more deadly toxins into the capital city’s already poor air shed than their records shown.
Neighboring residents began noticing a change in activity at the facility, noting smoke throughout the nights, and demanded to know what was being done to protect the health of their families. On the day I sat with my son admiring the sky, the plant emitted a toxic cloud from an “emergency bypass” into the metropolis. It was so large that nearby residents ran for cover. The fire department was called by concerned citizens. They made their way to the medical waste plant only to be turned away at the door. Fire fighters turned away?!? Erin Brokovich, the notable advocate, who Julia Roberts played in a the blockbuster film “Erin Brokovich,” took notice of the medical waste facility’s suspicious activity. Robert Bowcock, Erin Brokovich’s lead investigator, had this to say in response to the event:
“I am sickened by the Government response to the Stericycle “event” yesterday. All of Utah should be outraged that a Non-Utah corporation can turn one of the most beautiful places on earth into their own dumping ground…and literally behave like criminals and get away with it…in the name of due process. Tell that to the children whose lungs were clogged with tissue and medical waste ash yesterday evening. Nice job Utah Division of Air Quality…tuck your children into bed with a clear conscience.”
While Utah’s residents are accustomed to air toxins emitted from vehicle exhaust and coal-fired power plants, the Stericycle event sheds an entirely new light on a host of deadly toxins that are being released into Utah’s air. Utah Moms for Clean Air‘s official statement on Stericycle:
“The position of Utah Moms for Clean Air is clear: Allowing the highly toxic Stericycle medical incinerator in North Salt Lake to remain open in our community is nothing less than a form of modern-day human sacrifice in the name of profit. We call for an immediate shut-down of this facility.”
Utah Moms for Clean Air along with newly formed Community for Clean Air of North Salt Lake, HEAL Utah, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Erin Brokovich and her investigative team, and Greenaction are asking the Governor to use his emergency authority and close the Stericycle incinerator. In Utah, we are already on the brink of disastrous air quality. Adding highly toxic incinerated medical waste into the mix is a tragedy. Our government officials must act now! I can only hope that the toxic plume my son and I inhaled with thousands of other families in my community, is strongly regulated so it can never happen again.