(EnviroNews Utah) – In a move that few constituents from District 23 could understand, their State Senator, Todd Weiler a Republican, first made a move to defend representatives of Stericycle medical waste incineration facility at an emotional town-hall when they ducked out of the meeting early during a Q & A, and then quoted a set of highly controversial air pollution statistics released by the DEQ at the peak of inversion season last winter.
In the process, Senator Weiler took a few stabs at the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and their Founder Dr. Brian Moench, calling him an “activist” and their positions “radical”, while accusing them of having an “agenda”.
Moench responded by quoting a series of statistics that punched holes in the DEQ numbers, a set of numbers that has brought wide-spread criticism from the environmental community in the state of Utah.
Senator Weiler has since posted multiple social media and email follow-ups criticizing the physicians and their “radical” agenda, an “agenda” that Moench says he’s very proud of indeed.
Below is an email exchange between Mr. Moench and Mr. Weiler directly following the town-hall meeting:
BRIAN MOENCH’S EMAIL TO SEN. WEILER
Dear Senator Weiler:
Thank you for coming to the townhall meeting on Stericycle, especially considering that you were
the only member of the legislature that did, that is certainly to your credit as public servant. I think the crowd was a little unfair in beating up on you over what was perceived as making an excuse for Stericycle’s leaving early. However, I think the comments from one of the audience members, Cindy King, about Stericycle having a pattern of “having to leave early” at all previous meetings she has been part of with Stericycle is certainly worth noting. Having been part of countless meetings with many polluting industries, that kind of excuse is something I have heard many times as well.
I would like to correct you on a couple of things you mentioned last night. The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) have indeed advocated slower freeway speed limits to reduce gas consumption and therefore air pollution. But you characterized that as “radical.” The EPA has in fact mandated that in other states with pollution problems (Tennessee). You mentioned that you received something from us advocating suspending car travel entirely during our inversions. UPHE has never advocated for, or sent out e-mails to anyone taking that kind of position, so please don’t repeat that misinformation to other audiences.
Regarding your use of the word “radical” in reference to UPHE–Our group of 300+ physicians take issue with that characterization. Our advocacy for our patients is indeed resolute, but I surmise that is what any patient would want, if not expect from their doctor. Our public seminars, lectures and advocacy is strictly science based, in fact is the end result of literally thousands of medical studies published in the world’s most well respected medical journals. The statistics and perspective we present are virtually identical to those used publicly by the American Heart Asoociation, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, The Endocrine Society, and countless other medical and public health organizations. Those are hardly “radical” groups. The medical science we quote is either firmly established or represents the best science we have at the moment. The only thing that may be arguable is the value judgements that we make from that science, and how that should be transformed into public policy.
Stericycle is actually one of the easiest pollution issues to take sides on from a value judgement point of view. They release as much of the most dangerous part of the air pollution mix, i.e. HAPs (Hazardous Air Pollutants like lead, mercury, dioxins, PAHs) as a full scale coal fired power plant, or as much as any of our largest oil refineries. In the case of a coal power plant, the pollution is a serious down side, but we do get electricity from it. The same is true of an oil refinery, at least we get some gasoline products out of it. But in the case of Stericycle the community gets absolutely no benefit from their pollution, because incineration of hospital waste is a completely unnecessary, out dated, and discredited method of managing hospital waste. Just because it happens to be the business model of this company doesn’t mean the community should continue to suffer from the “collateral damage.” UPHE does have some credibility on that perspective because we work in hospitals where that waste is generated.
The concerns raised by your constituents last night about a myriad of health consequences from Stericycle is very understandable, it is also warranted based on the science that is available to us. The emotional energy that you witnessed is also understandable. These are real people–children, family members, loved ones who are being harmed, in some cases irrevocably. You witnessed angry parents determined to protect their children, an entirely appropriate reaction. The determination of the larger community to seek protection from this harm will only grow.
You clearly implied that your legislative colleagues were too business friendly to intervene and protect these families. While I understand you believe that is just being realistic, we believe that is also intolerable and immoral. We take care of autistic children, people with cancer and debilitating autoimmune diseases. We see the suffering that is the result and we know some of this can be prevented. We also know that your colleagues aren’t entirely immune to appropriate compassion and can be changed by your advocacy. You can set a great example for them. But even if the legislature refuses to help, ultimately this will be changed by a very determined community of “ordinary citizens.” If I can offer some unsolicited political advice–being in front of and leading this “train” is going to be a much better political position to be in than being run over by it.
If you would like to learn more or discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.
Dr. Brian Moench
TODD WEILER’S REPLY
I apologize for using the word “radical”, and for characterizing an email that I received from another air quality activist as being from your organization. However, you are an activist group by definition, and I don’t believe that most of my constituents would agree with many of the “goals and mission” objectives on your website, include: (1) all new electric energy supplies for the state come from renewable resources; (2) reduction of the speed limit to 55mph when air pollution exceeds EPA limits; and (3) Public subsidies for mass transit, free ridership and expanded service.
You have to increase taxes to make public transit free. If you eliminate refineries, gas prices go up. If you reduce freeway construction, then commute time increases. Yesterday, I-15 northbound was shut down for three hours in Centerville. I took Legacy to go around it. If your group had its way, I doubt Legacy would have ever been built.
While I appreciate that your group adds an important voice to some complicated issues, I was not impressed that last night you struck fear into the hearts of many young mothers and pregnant women – only to send them home to worry about the health of their children with nothing they can do to make any immediate improvements.