(EnviroNews Idaho) — Rexburg, ID — After an outpouring of community concern a proposed medical waste processing facility, in eastern Idaho, the Madison County Planning and Zoning board voted to advise county commissioners to deny a conditionaluse permit needed for plans to move forward.
Although the board voted against Snake River Waste Solution’s (SRWS) application on August 28 county commissioners will have the final say on whether the company is given a green-light to proceed as the board’s decisions are only advisory.
Snake River Waste Solutions Owners Daniel Eaton and Trenton Johnson, of Rigby, want to run a “home-based business,” just east of Rexburg, to transfer and sanitize medical waste.
At this point it is unknown if Eaton and Johnson will forgo plans completely, as their real estate agent indicated the pair of would-be medical waste processors is abandoning plans to purchase the land but Madison County planning and zoning said their application is still under review.
Eaton and Johnson’s Realtor, who asked to remain anonymous, said his clients will no longer pursue the purchase of the land at the Rexburg location. The real estate agent explained the purchase for the five-plus acre property was contingent on Eaton and Johnson successfully obtaining the conditional use permit. As things stand now, the application can still be approved by county commissioners, although it seems likely it will be pulled.
According to their realtor, instead of moving forward with the purchase of the property, Eaton and Johnson will be signing a termination agreement, effectively ending their pursuit of the land.
“They never intended to upset their community and after seeing the opposition have decided not move forward,” the Realtor said.
Neither Eaton nor Johnson could be reached for comment despite our repeated attempts.
In a phone interview with EnviroNews, County Planning and Zoning Administrator Brent McFadden said Snake River Waste Solution’s application is still in the works and will be reviewed by county commissioners soon.
County commissioners may still approve the permit; that vote will come in the coming weeks.
During the August meeting, applicants told commissioners that Bingham Memorial Hospital, in Blackfoot, Idaho, had already committed to using its service, which would consist of picking up, transporting and then sanitizing waste with a high temperature, steam autoclave process. The waste would then be taken to the Bonneville County landfill.
McFadden said applicants wouldn’t even need a conditional use permit to operate their business except they want to use an “accessory building” on the property, now operating as an automotive mechanic shop.
“Otherwise, we wouldn’t even be here,” he said.
Eaton told the board he and his family plan on living in the home on the property and new baby on the way wants the sanitization of waste to go as safely as possible.
When pressed by a concerned citizen about possible safety concerns, Eaton stressed he thought that “nothing” could go wrong; there wouldn’t be any odor, the business wouldn’t be invasive to neighbors, and overall autoclaving medical waste is a “very safe process.”
However, citizens weren’t convinced and they packed the county meeting — with a couple dozen people spilling into the hall. McFadden said it was the “largest public hearing we’ve had in a long time.”
Residents like Susan Sharp were among the dozens testifying against the permit. Besides allowing a commercial property into a residential area where many children live, Sharp told board members she doesn’t trust its safety promises.
“I’ve experienced the word ‘safe,’ ‘not harmful,’ and even had (that) it will be a huge benefit to the community,” Sharp said, adding that chemical exposure in the past diminished the quality of life for one of her children– so she remains leery of business’ promises.
Although SRWS said it does not plan on expanding into an incinerator facility, like the North Salt Lake City, Utah, Stericycle plant did, resident Heather Sharp is concerned it could do so anyway.
Alicia Connell, of Farmingham, Utah, drove over three-hours to attend the public hearing for SRWS and warned the community about the potential dangers in allowing a medical waste processor to operator in town.
Connell explained the community around the Stericycle plant packed a public hearing before it got started, much like the one for SRWS and despite residents’ opposition was allowed to operate. Stericycle began as a small, waste transfer facility that collected and then transported for disposal elsewhere in the country but grew into incinerating waste onsite.
“It started as a transfer station, sound familiar,” Connell said.
She wanted to know what SRWS’s plans were for monitoring radioactive waste, like equipment, medicine and even human tissue, disposed of during certain cancer treatments that may make it into their processing stream. Connell also pointed out the applicant’s lack of emergency mitigation plans and questioned how the company would address possible water or septic system contamination.
“There needs to be fail-safes,” Connell urged.
Although Johnson asserted that any water disposed of in the property’s septic system would be “sterile condensation,” a study by the State of California Department of Health Services in 2006 showed that contaminates, including mercury, can end up in the autoclave, which can potentially contaminate water and septic systems.
Other risks to medical waste management and autoclaving in the study indicated a high rate of worker injury by needle pokes and possible exposure to toxic biological and disease agents and radiation from waste bags not being properly sealed in the hospital.
These risks and fears of environmental contamination were echoed during two hours of public testimony and the planning and zoning board ultimately decided to vote to advise deny the permit.