Whether or not Stericycle’s proposed relocation to Tooele County is approved, officials need to take emergency preparation into account when determining where medical waste might be sent, a health care activist says.
Darrell Henry, a professional lobbyist who represents the Healthcare Coalition for Emergency Preparedness in Washington, D.C., said he met this week with local officials to discuss transportation issues that can arise during an emergency situation.
When hospitals and other medical entities ship their waste off-site for processing, it can create a potential hazard in an emergency situation, he said.
The limited road access into and out of Tooele County needs to be considered in case of an emergency, and local leaders should have action plans in place, said Henry.
The disposal of medical waste is not often taken into account in emergency planning, he said, which has caused waste to build up in spare room at hospitals during disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
This creates a potential hazard where pathogens may spread to hospital workers and, from there, to the general population, he said.
The situation could be particularly hazardous in a pandemic situation, Henry said, because the pathogens that create pandemics tend to be highly contagious. Disease such as turbiculosis have been known to spread via medical waste, he said.
“This stuff is real. It’s out there,” Henry said.
The best known medical practice actually calls for medical waste to be sterilized on site, he added.
“Pathogens like ebola should never leave the hospital,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.”
If Stericycle does relocate to Rowley as proposed, Henry said he would advise local first responders to train in handling biohazardous material in case one of Stericycle’s trucks has an accident en route to the incinerator.
He added emergency transportation plans should also be in place, but mostly for local medical facilities. Although Stericycle’s Utah-based incinerator receives nearly 1 million pounds of medical facilities outside Utah, those facilities would likely just re-route their waste to another facility in the event that an emergency in the county cut off access to the Rowley incinerator.
Regardless, Henry said he felt the need to reach out to local leaders and citizens because they are on the forefront of an important decision regarding health care emergency management.
“I think the county has more power than they realize,” he said. “I think the people here, in permitting this, have more power than they think they have.”
Stericycle’s North Salt Lake medical waste incinerator came under fire last fall for an emissions violation that the company says was the result of a series of four mechanical failures. An investigation into the violation is ongoing.
The company recently obtained legislative permission to move to Tooele County, and has already agreed to buy a 40-acre parcel of state trust lands near Rowley. But before it can relocate, the company must still obtain permission from the state Department of Environmental Quality, the governor’s office and from Tooele County officials.
The company is currently working on bolstering community support in advance of initiating the conditional use permit process with Tooele County. The conditional use process will require Stericycle to demonstrate that the potential negative impacts of the relocation can be mitigated, and the company will undergo a series of public hearings in the process.
To head off potential public opposition, Stericycle officials have planned a series of open house events in Tooele. The first, held Tuesday night, saw about a dozen locals in attendance.
Company officials explained their incineration process and answered questions about the size of the company’s operations and its safety record.
The next open house is scheduled for April 15. It will take place at 7 p.m. in the Grantsville High School Auditorium at 155 E. Cherry Street.