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Utah Hospitals Reconsider Medical Waste Disposal

Amid public concern about air pollution generated by Stericycle’s North Salt Lake incinerator, two major hospital systems in Utah say they are reconsidering their processes for disposing of medical waste. Officials from University of Utah Health Sciences and Intermountain Healthcare say they are exploring their options, but are continuing to use Stericycle’s incinerator for the time being.

Some medical waste is not allowed in landfills. Things like used bandages and syringes, prescription drugs and hazardous chemicals have to be separated and treated. Most of these materials end up in incinerators –which emit dioxins and other toxic substances. The U’s Director of Environmental Health and Safety Michele Johnson says public concern about Stericycle’s emissions led the university to reconsider how it disposes of medical waste.

“Of course we’re paying attention to what’s happened as far as the concerns with Stericycle, and so that just initiated for us, just to be prudent and look at our processes here for the generation of medical waste and where it goes,” Johnson says.

The U is exploring alternatives to using Stericycle’s incinerator, but she says each strategy comes with benefits and costs. The U could ship the waste out of state or use another hazardous waste incinerator in Aragonite, Utah, but she says that could potentially cost 3 times as much as Stericycle.

“We’ve got to be able to validate to our taxpayers that we’re being fiscally responsible with the funding that we receive,” Johnson says.

Intermountain Healthcare spokesman Daron Cowley told KUER that the hospital chain is exploring alternate technologies, and taking steps to reduce the need for incineration, but in the meantime is continuing to work with Stericycle.

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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