Stericycle, EPA Settle on Alleged Air Quality Violations from Medical Waste Incinerator

Stefanie Valentic, Editorial Director

February 9, 2021

3 Min Read
Stericycle, EPA Settle on Alleged Air Quality Violations from Medical Waste Incinerator

Stericycle has settled with the Justice Department and EPA following alleged emissions violations of the federal Clean Air Act at the company's North Salt Lake, Utah facility.

Court documents showed that bypass stacks on the medical waste company's solid waste incineration units were opened on 20 instances over 18 days between November 27, 2010, and April 5, 2013. Stericycle allegedly failed to report the "use of the bypass stack, the duration, reason for malfunction, and corrective action taken” in its March 2011, September 2011, March 2012, September 2012, March 2013, and September 2013 semi-annual reports.

The state of Utah did not accept the company's stack tests that were completed in 2011, saying the "defendant could not comply with applicable nitrogen oxides (NOx) emission limits when incinerating waste characteristic of the facility’s waste stream at a charge rate of more than 1550 pounds/hour." The test runs were not representative of the company's waste stream and "therefore were not 'conducted under representative operating conditions,'" putting the facility in violation of the Utah's Hospital, Medical, and Infectious Waste Incinerators (HMIWI) plan for acceptable NOx regulatory limits.

“Medical waste incinerators must operate in strict compliance with our nation’s clean air laws,” said Jean E. Williams, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a statement. “Stericycle has installed new pollution controls and made operational changes to remedy the violations alleged in the complaint.” 

The proposed consent degree, which contains details of the EPA settlement, stated that Stericycle must be in compliance with EPA air quality regulations, pay a $600,000 civil penalty and conduct a Supplemental Environmental Project. The company also must purchase low-emissions school buses for a local school district at a $2 million cost.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality completed an investigation into the alleged emissions exceedences and issued a Notice of Violation in 2014, leading to an administrative settlement with the state. This was the only citation for emissions violations on record for the facility. The EPA's subsequent investigation years later as done in cooperation with the state's division of air quality.

"Stericycle, under new leadership, has aggressively pursued improvements to its compliance program over the past several years across the entire company, including significant investments in team member training programs, new facility equipment, the development of expanded standard operating procedures, internal and external auditing programs, and other tools for environmental compliance management," the company wrote in a statement.

Since the state's ruling, the company installed new air pollution control equipment  "that has lowered emission levels beyond the already stringent limits for Hospital, Medical, Infectious Waste Incinerators."  Two independent studies completed by the Utah Department of Health discovered "emissions from the facility present no health risk to the surrounding community."

“This settlement will benefit all who live in and visit North Salt Lake,” said EPA  Acting Regional Administrator Debra H. Thomas in a statement. “In addition to NOx reductions at the facility, the settlement requires Stericycle to replace old, high-emitting school buses for a local school district, providing cleaner air for school children and nearby neighborhoods.” 

Stericycle plans to shut down the incinerator at the facility in July 2022 and will relocate operations to another site. The facility will continue to be used for collection and transportation of medical waste.

About the Author(s)

Stefanie Valentic

Editorial Director, Waste360

Stefanie Valentic is the editorial director of Waste360. She can be reached at [email protected].


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