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Controversial medical waste company fined millions by EPA moves to northern Nevada

Stericycle plant being built in Storey County, east of Sparks in the Reno Tahoe Industrial Center (KRNV){p}{/p}
Stericycle plant being built in Storey County, east of Sparks in the Reno Tahoe Industrial Center (KRNV)

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A company that burns medical waste is coming to northern Nevada and brings with it a lot of controversy.

Stericycle just shut down its incinerators in north Salt Lake summer 2022. The company is rebuilding in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, about half-way between Sparks and Fernley. Stericycle is planning to build and operate two incinerators at the facility.

Those incinerators will burn medical waste, such as potentially infectious materials like bandages or PPE as well as trace chemotherapy waste and sharp waste like needles and scalpels. The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection told News 4 no human waste will be incinerated at the Nevada plant. In a statement, Stericycle said "pathological wastes such as surgical specimens would be accepted for treatment at our new Nevada facility."

"We don’t have any hospital medical waste incinerators in Nevada so we researched what the requirements were. We talked to the federal EPA," said Nevada Division of Environmental Protection Administrator Greg Lovato.

The company had issues in Utah. In 2014 the company agreed to pay a record $2.3 million dollar fine after Utah's Division of Air Quality said Stericycle failed emissions tests for more than a year. The EPA said the plant released pollutants that exacerbates diseases such as asthma and can increase susceptibility of respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Residents were concerned about what was in the black smoke billowing from the incinerator. For more than a decade they've protested and expressed concerns about the plant being so close to residents' homes. The area was mostly rural when the company moved into the building in 1992, Since then, homes have been built closer.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment lead the charge to try to get the company to stop burning medial waste.

"For 33 years Stericycle poured out their smokestack their witches brew of many of the most toxic substances known to science," said Dr. Brian Moench said this past July in Utah.

In addition to the large fine, Stericycle was forced to shut down its incinerators this summer. The company chose to move that part of the business to northern Nevada in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection said it doesn't have the discretion to stop the permit, if the company meets the state's requirements. The state said it has met the requirements. The administrator said with the company's past history it will be keeping a close eye on the plant.

"There will be announced inspections, unannounced inspections. We also have continuous emissions monitoring systems that’s going to be on there now so they’re actually going to have real-time monitoring of what’s coming out of the stack," said Lovato.

Lovato said they approved the permit because his office feels the company can operate safely.

"To be fair, I think that the company showed that they operated in compliance, since those incidents in 2013 and so they were able to show a pretty long record of compliance after that," he said.

Storey County's manager, Austin Osborne didn't comment on any concerns but stated they'll rely on the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and their strict policies.

Stericycle did not give News 4 an interview as requested and instead issued the following statement:

Stericycle is excited to be joining the Storey County and McCarran communities as we construct our hospital, medical, and infectious waste incinerator (HMIWI) facility, at the Tahoe Reno Industry Center (TRIC) in McCarran, Nevada, and prepare to serve a critical public health need. Our new, technologically advanced facility will provide hospitals and healthcare systems with effective medical waste treatment and disposal – which is an essential service that aids in mitigating the spread of infection – while also supporting the creation of jobs and bolstering the local economy.

We identified Storey County and the TRIC as an ideal location for our Western flagship facility for a number of reasons, including:

  • The location enables us to better serve our healthcare customers throughout the Western Region.
  • The site is located within an industrial park zoned specifically for heavy industry, increasing our access to the appropriate infrastructure to support our operations as well as access to highways.
  • The strong network of local contractors and vibrant businesses that enable us to hire local and strengthen our connection to the community as we build and operate this facility.

The McCarran facility falls under the stricter emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for new HMIWIs. In addition, our HMIWI facility will be less impactful to the surrounding environment than other incinerators, such as municipal waste incinerators, which are typically larger in size and throughput. In any given period, the McCarran facility is expected to generate roughly the equivalent emissions of 10 semi-trucks operating for the same length of time. Our new facility is also designed to use minimal water and will use reclaimed rather than potable water where possible. Our services, like all medical waste transportation and treatment operations, are highly regulated by federal, state, and local environmental agencies.

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As a global industry leader, Stericycle has helped communities through outbreaks, natural disasters, and other states of emergency, including handling medical waste and supporting critical healthcare needs in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Through safe, sustainable, and responsible products and services, we help healthcare organizations protect the health and well-being of the people and communities they serve.

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