NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah — Activists are celebrating the closure of a North Salt Lake medical waste incinerator after a years long battle.
Stericycle's incinerator has been operating for 33 years, and during that time, the company has been accused of failing to control toxic emissions.
Even after being forced to upgrade operations, the incinerator emitted conspicuous black plumes over the nearby Foxboro neighborhood.
Throughout the years, the company was also accused of rigging emissions tests, with the Environmental Protection Agency even fining Stericycle $2.6 million last year for multiple violations of their permit and allegedly committing fraud with false tax stack tests.
With Stericycle now moving out of state to Nevada, the group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment will be celebrating in front of the facility at noon Wednesday.
"Specifically, we know that populations near incinerators exposed to incinerator emissions have higher rates of things like premature death cancer, reproductive disorders, so this is a serious public health hazard," said Dr. Brian Moench with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
A protest at the facility in 2013 attracted the attention of famed environmental activist and lawyer Erin Brockovich. At one point there were thousands of these facilities across the country that dealt with medical waste many of them starting in the 1980’s
Stericycle was no different opening here in 1989.
Moench estimated that while thousands of such facilities once existed, as few as 30 exist today.
“Well, I'm really angry and sad that this is allowed to happen.” Rich Hinks said, “and yet I'm late and now we finally maybe have corrected a problem no progress in the environmental movement is so rare and hard to come by.”
Hinks has a personal stake in the battle and explained he’s been involved for “five, six years, I would guess, been a long time - way too long.”
His daughter and grandchildren life less than two blocks from the facility.
He’s not the only one though, Sarah Stroud is another who has seen it firsthand.
“You could visibly see how bad it was, you know,” she said.
Her first experience was moving into the neighborhood with her friend saying after seeing the impact it had on their health “it was really dire. I mean, I didn't know what to take it seriously if it really was going to be as bad as it could be.”
Stericycle said it will continue to own and operate the North Salt Lake site as a "collection and transportation facility employing approximately 20" people. The company added that 20 other employees were impacted by the incinerator move.
The company discussed the move in a statement to FOX 13 News.
"This change to our operations has been planned for several years. As demand for medical waste management in the United States continues to increase, driven largely by growing healthcare needs, Stericycle has sought relocation to account for the infrastructure needed to expand our capacity. We look forward to continuing to help the healthcare industry address complex medical waste disposal challenges in a safe and responsible manner, both in the North Salt Lake Community and across all communities where we operate."