SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have given early approval to a bill that would block new facilities that burn infectious medical waste from going up within 2 miles of existing neighborhoods.
A Senate committee on Friday voted unanimously to approve the measure from Woods Cross Republican Sen. Todd Weiler.
The move comes on the heels of other legislative action related to a North Salt Lake waste-burning facility owned by Stericycle. A resolution for the plant to move to remote Tooele County cleared a House committee Wednesday.
Weiler, the bill's sponsor, says the issue is personal because he lives about 2 miles from the current facility, which accepts medical waste from around the West.
The North Salt Lake incinerator processes about 7,000 tons a year, according to the Utah Division of Air Quality. The waste ranges from pharmaceuticals and laboratory tools made of plastic and glass to human tissue and fluids and animal tissues and carcasses.
"I'm basically living with this situation," Weiler told the committee Friday. The measure aims to prevent health risks by barring any such operations from being built near backyards and playgrounds.
A recent state study indicated surrounding communities there had higher cancer rates, but epidemiologists have said the elevated rates are probably not directly tied to the facility. A group of doctors has urged hospitals to boycott Stericycle as it contests emissions violations.
The Illinois-based Stericycle has said it's seeking to move the plant from North Salt Lake in Davis County to Tooele County, away from growing neighborhoods.
Carl Ingwell of the Utah Clean Air Alliance praised the bill Wednesday, calling it a "good first step."
But critics contend no medical waste should be burned, and the proposed move upwind of Salt Lake City would not temper their concerns.
Weiler's bill would not bar developers from building houses near existing incinerators. He hopes community zoning officials would prevent towns and neighborhoods from setting up close to such operations, he said Friday.
A former version of Weiler's proposal pertained to all medical waste. But lawmakers tailored it Friday to relate only to potentially infectious materials, including human tissue and chemotherapy drugs that could contaminate water if buried in landfills.
The results of the recent state health study aren't definitive. The health department said earlier in February it is awaiting results from soil samples taken near the plant. Those samples are looking for levels of dioxin and heavy metals. The state also has said it is reviewing adverse births in south Davis County.
The measure to create the 2-mile buffers for future medical incinerators must be approved by the Senate and House, then signed by the governor to become law.