(Paul Fraughton | Tribune file photo) Dr. Brain Moench points to a photo held by Sarah Sargent showing an emergency bypass event at the Stericycle medical waste incinerator in North Salt Lake. Clean-air advocates joined other concerned citizens at a rally in the Capitol rotunda last month to voice their demand that the incinerator be shut down.
Elevated cancer rates found near Stericycle in Davis County
Stericycle » The rates are higher in the area, but patterns can’t be attributed to a specific environmental exposure.
By Brian Maffly
| The Salt Lake Tribune
There are elevated rates of some types of cancer in the communities that surround the Stericycle medical-waste incinerator, the Utah Department of Health has found.
But health officials said the findings are not cause for alarm and may simply reflect random variation that epidemiologists often encounter. The study cannot link the cancer patterns to specific environmental exposures.
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The study looked at rates of 42 types of cancer between 1976 and 2011, the last year data was available. It found elevated rates of six cancers — colon, anus, bone and joint, cutaneous melanoma, breast and prostate — for the 2006-11 period.
"The elevated rates are very small compared to the background. That could be chance alone," said state epidemiologist Allyn Nakashima.
"These cancers are all highly preventable through lifestyle choices and regular health screenings," Nakashima added. "No links to air, water, or soil have ever been established for these types of cancer."
Gov. Gary Herbert ordered a multi-faceted investigation into possible health impacts associated with the Stericycle incinerator, which now abuts the new Foxboro neighborhood, after the state Division of Air Quality alleged the incinerator’s emissions breached the limits set in its permit.
Activists have urged the governor to close the plant, which is allowed to emit each year up to 9.5 tons of hazardous pollutants, including mercury and lead.
The Illinois-based company, which is formally contesting the state’s notice of violation, is now working out a deal to move the North Salt Lake incinerator 30 miles west to a remote part of Tooele County.
Stericycle critics were hardly impressed with the new findings, arguing that there are non-cancer health impacts that could be attributed to exposure to dioxin and other toxic emissions coming from the incinerator.
Of particular concern to activists are impacts to unborn children. A European study, for example, found mothers living near incinerators were 30 percent more likely to deliver premature babies, according to Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.