Stericycle has set its hopes on moving to a proposed site in Rowley, but still has a long permitting process before it can begin relocation, officials said during a public open house.
About a dozen local residents and politicians attended the Wednesday morning meeting to ask questions of Stericycle representatives about the company’s proposed relocation.
Although the Illinois-based medical waste handler must first obtain permits from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, Tooele County, and the governor’s office, Stericycle representatives said moving to Rowley would be a win for the company, for the environment, and for the local community.
The proposed site at Rowley is located about 18 miles northwest of Grantsville.
The meeting opened with several suspicious questions about the company’s operations and emissions control. Gary Walker, a resident of South Rim, initiated a conversation about emissions testing with a question about whether the company continuously monitors its smoke stack.
The company does not, because the technology needed to monitor all chemicals of interest is not currently available, said Selin Hoboy, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for Stericycle. However, the company plans to look into all newly available technology as it begins to design a new plant, she said.
That isn’t necessarily required, Hoboy added, but the company wants to build its new plant with longevity in mind.
By the end of the meeting, Walker said many of his concerns about the company had been thoroughly addressed.
“From what I’ve heard here today, I’d probably vote yes [on the relocation,]” he said.
After answering more questions about the plant’s operations, addressing everything from the incinerator’s monthly 1.5 million-pound waste intake to the impossibility of contagions surviving in a 2,000-degree furnace, company representatives began to lay out their reasoning behind the relocation.
A new incineration facility would not only employ newer, cleaner technologies, but would actually be held to a higher emissions standard, they explained. The overall decrease in emissions would follow a long-time trend for the better, said Jennifer Koenig, vice president of corporate communications for Stericycle.
“At one point in time, hospitals had their own incinerators,” she said. “Schools had incinerators.”
Centralizing similar incineration operations in one large facility makes the emissions easier to contain and control, she continued.
The Utah-based Stericycle incinerator currently accepts regulated medical waste — which includes trace chemotherapy, some pharmaceuticals and pathological wastes — from eight surrounding states, Koenig said.
However, the amount of waste they process has remained stable over time. They do plan to take potential growth into account when designing the new plant, she said, but most of that growth is expected to come from Utah’s own medical industry.
The topic of conversation next moved to the economic benefits of relocating Stericycle’s Utah incineration operation to Tooele County — a subject that dominated the majority of the two-hour open house.
While Stericycle has 55 employees who currently work at the North Salt Lake incinerator, the company has estimated that about 30 of those positions would transfer to a Tooele-area plant. Some of those 30 employees eagerly look forward to the move — the plant’s manager, who has been with Stericycle since he graduated from high school — already anticipates buying a house in the Grantsville area. However, Koenig said she knew of others who have implied they do not intend to accept the transfers and who may begin to seek work elsewhere.
For those positions, Stericycle will have to find replacements, Koenig said. Additionally, the company has several current openings at the North Salt Lake plant that they hope to fill with residents from Tooele County.
When news of Stericycle’s emissions violation — the catalyst for Stericycle’s intended relocation — first hit print and television media last fall, the company had several employees leave, Koenig explained. Since then, they have had trouble recruiting replacements.
In the meantime, the increase of inexperienced workers at the North Salt Lake Plant has lead to a slight increase in the number of worksite injuries there, Koenig said.
They have already interviewed area residents for some of those positions, and are excited to be hiring labor from the area, Hoboy added. They have also contacted Tooele Applied Technology College and local high schools to begin recruiting for available positions.
Because all of Stericycle’s available positions require full-time, skilled labor, Tooele County’s uniquely experienced labor force was one of its most attractive features, Koenig said. However, pay has proven a sticking point. Entry-level jobs at Stericycle start at $11 per hour — lower than standard wages paid by companies that work with chemical or nuclear waste, she said.
Additionally, Koenig said the company would pay property taxes and mitigation fees to the county.
As the meeting progressed, some attendees began to question why the company had not made more information available early in the process.
“We didn’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Hoboy said. “We didn’t want to get the community all excited and then find out we can’t come out here.”
Stericycle plans to put on additional informational meetings for the public in communities across the county. A calendar of events should be released sometime next week, Koenig said.