- Stericycle officially confirmed it has abandoned plans to build a medical waste incinerator in the city of North Las Vegas, Nevada, as reported by the Las Vegas Sun. The incinerator, which was to be based at Apex Industrial Park, would have replaced a facility near Salt Lake City, Utah that is closing. The final plans included a 44,000 square foot facility that would have taken medical waste from throughout the West, with ash stored on-site.
- Back in June, Stericycle withdrew an application for a special permit from the North Las Vegas Planning Commission paving the way for the facility. Initially, the city expressed interest in the project and approved a special permit in December 2016 that later expired and prompted a new application. But concerns over health and environmental risks ultimately jeopardized the project as officials became skeptical, seemingly prompting the company to back out.
- Jennifer Koenig, Stericycle vice president for corporate communications, told Waste Dive the company abandoned the Nevada project over "broader business considerations and facility planning." It is unclear what the abandoned North Las Vegas effort might mean for medical waste incineration and disposal in the region, or where the waste might now be sent.
Stericycle has operations around the world, but the Illinois-based company has struggled with pushback over public health risks and environmental concerns in these regions.
For years, the North Salt Lake City plant has been a source of particular contention. Environmentalist Erin Brockovich once joined a protest against the facility in 2013 after Stericycle received a violation notice for exceeding emissions limits on dioxins and other hazardous pollutants. A year later, the medical waste giant agreed to a $2.3 million fine — the highest in history for the Utah Division of Air Quality and the maximum that could be levied. That move came after Stericycle misreported emissions from the incinerator, in violation of limits under the Clean Air Act.
Part of the company's settlement with Utah entailed leaving the North Salt Lake City facility and seeking a site elsewhere in Tooele County, around two hours away. The state said the $2.3 million fine would be cut in half if the move was completed within three years of receiving operational permits for the new site.
But that plan fell through in February as Stericycle reportedly became more concerned about the mounting costs associated with the move. Because the Tooele County site is in a a desert, this would have have entailed transporting water and other costly efforts. When backing out of the move, Stericycle indicated the North Salt Lake City site would remain a transfer station for trucks en route to other facilities, including one in Kansas City, Missouri. The company also pointed to the planned Nevada site as an alternative.
Stericycle argued the company worked to improve conditions in Utah and that similar problems would not occur at a new facility. The company also worked closely with North Las Vegas on many components of the site, including designs for the facility. But Marc Jordan, who oversees land and development planning for the city, ultimately recommended against approving the project over concerns about toxins that could "impact people and the wildlife," according to the Sun. The city of North Las Vegas did not respond to a request for comment.
Brian Moench, president of the group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, was among the activists opposed to Stericycle's work in his own state. He expressed similar sentiments to Waste Dive about the failed North Las Vegas project.
"Incinerators in general and medical waste incinerators in particular are well documented public health hazards," Moench wrote in an email, going on to say "the pollution actually spreads many of the toxins and metals further, including radioactive elements, and creates new ones, like dioxins, furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons."
Koenig of Stericycle declined to answer Waste Dive's questions about where the waste intended for the planned Nevada facility might go. She also did not indicate whether or not the company plans to build elsewhere in the region.
Waste-to-energy plants more generally have long been a hard sell for companies as communities and lawmakers become more skeptical due to potential risks to human health and the environment. A previously proposed facility in North Las Vegas by the company EnviroPower Renewable fell through in 2014 after community pushback. But the company is still seeking to build in the area. In June 2018, EnviroPower applied for renewable energy tax abatement, and the company still lists a local pyrolysis facility as a planned future project.