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Lawmaker Wants to Ban Medical Waste Incineration in Utah

Photo courtesy Foxboro residents

Republican State Senator Todd Weilerof Woods Cross says he’s filing a bill to ban medical waste incineration in Utah. The announcement comes after Stericycle’s North Salt Lake incinerator allegedlyexceeded its permitted levels of toxic pollutants and falsified its emissions tests. Nearby residents and environmental activists have called for the incinerator to be closed down. 

Earlier this summer, Senator Todd Weiler thought that activists were making outrageous claims about Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator. One physician said, for instance, that when Stericyle uses its unfiltered bypass stack during emergencies – it emits more pollution than an oil refinery does in a year. So Weiler decided to investigate. He toured Stericycle’s incinerator and asked how much pollution they emit during a bypass incident. He says company officials could not give him an answer. They also told him, they have no way of knowing the contents of what’s going into the incinerator.

“They don’t know what they’re burning, they don’t know what they’re releasing during the bypass incidents,” Weiler says. “I don’t know how that’s a sustainable plan for a residential community with five schools within a mile, so that’s why I’m taking action.”

State Senator Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross)

Weiler has looked around the country and discovered that 39 states have banned medical waste incineration. Now the medical waste of numerous states including California is being shipped to North Salt Lake. Weiler learned that there is an alternative technology called autoclaving – that essentially sterilizes the waste before it goes in a landfill.  

“I understand from Stericycle that not 100 percent of all medical waste can be autoclaved, but I don’t understand why Utah wants to become a dumping ground for this medical waste that can’t be autoclaved,” Weiler says.

Weiler says the climate in the state is building against incineration, and a recent event on Friday just adds to that sense. Residents reported black smoke and flames coming out of the bypass stack that scared families holding a community run near the incinerator. Stericycle did not return a request for confirmation of the incident. Bypass events are allowed during emergencies like a power outage, as long as they are reported to the state Division of Air Quality.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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