(EnviroNews Utah) – North Salt Lake City – In a shocking admission Thursday night at a heated town hall meeting, a VP from Stericycle has admitted that the company is allowed to accept and burn deadly and arguably indestructible brain-destroying prions at its North Salt Lake incineration facility — a facility that was busted earlier this year for being out of compliance with its Title V air pollution permit from December of 2011 through April of 2013.
Prions are the deforming proteins responsible for causing Mad Cow Disease and Deer, Elk and Moose Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in animals, as well as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), prion infections such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob carry a horrifying 100% fatality rate in human beings, and no known host of a prion infection has ever survived. Many experts believe that prion illnesses are able to jump the species barrier much more readily than bacteria and viruses.
There are still many unknowns concerning the destruction and/or inactivation of prions, but the concensus is that these vicious proteins cannot be destroyed through autoclaving or any standard process of incineration and remain active in the environment even after prion-containing tissue is burned to ash. These facts were admitted by Selin Hoboy, VP of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for Stericycle, when questioned about prions by an EnviroNews reporter at the town hall meeting. She stated, “There are studies that show that prions are never really fully destroyed and remain in the environment.”
What is known about prions is that they are so deadly and transmittable that it is nearly impossible to locate a pathologist willing to perform an autopsy if a cadaver is suspected of being infected with the fatal proteins.
Hoboy also said this regarding Stericycle’s hall pass to accept prions: “We do have a permit condition for prions. If we were to accept them, we would have to notify the state.” It turns out that this is indeed true, and we discovered the conditions referred to by Hoboy in the response to public comment in the 2006 permitting process with the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste.
Item 7 reads:
7. Comments were received that indicated that residents were concerned about the storage and incineration of animals contaminated with “wasting disease” or Mad Cow disease.
It is the opinion of the Utah Department of Agriculture that incineration is an appropriate disposal option for animals contaminated with chronic wasting disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease), and bird influenza. As such, the option of disposal of these wastes at the Stericycle medical waste incinerator is allowed and available.
As a practical matter, however, the Division believes that the inclusion of a large mass of animal carcasses into this incinerator presents operational problems that will need to be addressed before these wastes can be incinerated. Specifically, Stericycle will need to be able to confirm that the inclusion of large animal carcasses will not degrade the performance of the primary or secondary combustion chambers of this incinerator.
Stericycle will need to inform the Division prior to acceptance of these wastes to determine if incineration can be performed in accordance with the permit. The Permit will be modified in Section I.B.6 to read as follows:
“Stericycle shall obtain approval from the Executive Secretary prior to the acceptance and disposal of animals contaminated with “Mad Cow” disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE), chronic wasting disease, or bird flu (Avian Influenza). The facility must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Executive Secretary and the Utah Department of Agriculture that the incinerator can be operated such that the time/temperature profiles of the incinerator can effectively destroy the animals and the disease that infects that animal.”
The above item is key, as it mandates Stericycle to notify the Division prior to accepting any materials suspected of containing the deadly proteins. EnviroNews Utah spoke with Ralph Bohn of the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste and asked if Stericycle had ever reported plans of accepting any prions. His response was an immediate “No,” leaving many to wonder if Stericycle has been honest in honoring this condition of their DSHW permit.
In the wake of the recent scandal where Stericycle was widely accused by local media outlets, as well as environmental groups and concerned citizens, for having “fudged their numbers” and “cooked their books” regarding the amount of deadly emissions and dioxin pumped out in 2011–2013, we have had a hard time finding anyone who fully trusts the notion that Stericycle would be honest about accepting prion-suspected bio waste from their clients.
The 2006 “RESPONSE TO COMMENTS” also spoke to prions in item 13:
13. One commenter indicated that the issue of “prions” which could be part of an animal carcass has not been directly addressed by the permit application, the DSHW, or by Stericycle. Any methodology of how to treat this waste has not been presented to the public for comment.
The “prions” that could be part of animal carcasses have been shown to be destroyed effectively at 1,000° C (1800 °F) during incineration1. Questions about incineration being an effective disposal option are directed at ‘small’ incinerators where effective secondary combustion is not available. The Stericycle incinerator has a controlled secondary combustion chamber that operates between 1800°F and 2200°F. The Division concurs with current research that this temperature is effective. Also see response (7) for further discussion.
In our conversation with DSHW, they were very vague about recalling where their data came from that substantiated the claim by the Utah Department of Agriculture that prions can be effectively destroyed through a process of incineration. Our own research has led us to believe that only two studies were used, one of which came from a Canadian agricultural institute, leaving us to wonder who paid for this purported scientific research.
It is always entertaining to observe that “foreign” science is good enough when it comes to granting another source-polluter permit, but when it cuts the other way in an instance like when the French national equivalent of America’s FDA came out and declared that Monsanto GMO corn causes horrifying cancers – then the study was cataloged as being European “junk science,” or inadequate at best.
In our marathon-like, ongoing quest for any definitive or scientific academy based research on whether or not, and at what temperature and duration, each and every known prion mutation maybe rendered inactive, it has become quite apparent to us that the science remains all over the map.
One study, suspected of being paid for by the beef industry, claims that prions can be destroyed by cooking at 900 degrees F for a period of four hours, whereas other studies suggest that they may be inactivated at 1,100 degrees, 1,800 degrees, or 2,200 degrees respectively. Yet another study suggests that prions, because they contain no nucleus and are indeed a protein, are never fully destroyed or inactivated but merely reduced in mass. To our ears, Selin Hoboy of Stericycle clearly acknowledged the last possibility in her on-camera admission.
It is well understood that the very nature of a prion is to mutate, and there are many variables responsible for if and when it crosses a species barrier. Some prions are many times more resilient to inactivation than other prions, making it a downright crapshoot whether or not and at what temperature and duration any particular prion may be rendered inactive. We are researching this matter on an ongoing basis, yet the waters remain very murky. Should the Salt Lake area be allowed to be a human Petri dish in the meantime?
Dr. Ermias D. Belay of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Prion and Public Health Office told EnviroNews USA that he was confident that prions can be destroyed through a process of incineration. However,after alluding to studies done in the UK (where once again, European science was apparently good enough), Dr. Belay failed to direct EnviroNews to any definitive scientific reports on specific prion varietals can be inactivated, what amount of incineration time is required for inactivation and at what temperature the inactivation occurs.
Dr. Belay did acknowledge that there is a present “crisissituation” with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in our wild deer, elk, and moose herds and said that if a prion-containing carcass were left in the wild, it would be a much larger environmental hazard than if it were to be incinerated. That might be true, but when in follow-up he was asked if that would still be the case if the prion-ridden carcass was being incinerated by a facility that sits right in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood and has dozens of emergency bypasses where incinerator contents are pumped unscrubbed into the open environment, Dr. Belay did not have much of an answer. In fairness, that is likely not his field.
Stericyle, one of the last remaining hazardous medical waste incinerators in the United States, has been suspected of burning these malevolent proteins for years, but until this startling admission was caught on video, no one with whom we have spoken had ever heard them acknowledge it publicly.
This flabbergasting revelation has put Stericycle’s back even more firmly against the wall as activist organizations and angry community members have been uniformly demanding that the plant be shut down or relocated away from the neighborhood immediately.
Also revealed at the town hall meeting was the fact that for years Stericycle has been emitting massive amounts of hydrogen fluoride gas, dioxins, mercury, lead, and other cancer-causing and mutagenic poisons into the environment in an area already hampered by the second-highest known autism rate in the entire world (one in 32 boys).
Adding fuel to the fire, Stericycle’s high number of emergency bypasses, as well as their recent “cooking of the books” regarding dioxin and other emissions, served to anger the crowd at the meeting, which lasted for more than two hours.
Many in the audience had been waiting for years to face Stericycle representatives and air their grievances in person. One after another, local residents stood up and spoke out about the autism, learning disabilities, and birth defects hampering their children. Having made their statement, however, Stericycle representatives ducked out of the meeting early, much to the dismay of the enraged audience.
It is well known that Stericycle has many emergency bypasses every year, during which they dump deadly and carcinogenic toxins to and through their short bypass stack, skipping the process of scrubbing for particulates.
Now that the cat is out of the bag about this hazardous waste facility’s burning of arguably indestructible prions, one has to wonder just how much longer the people here will put up with Stericycle.
Article updated by EnviroNews Utah July 18, 2013.
FILM AND ARTICLE CREDITS
- Emerson Urry - Videojournalist, Author, Video Editor, Sound Editor, 3D Animator