Stericycle Plant Whistleblower Tells All (Uncut Interview)
(EnviroNews Utah) – The views expressed in this interview are the opinions of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of EnviroNews or its corresponding journalists, executives, or affiliated networks.
Emerson Urry: Okay, we’re here on Environews Utah this evening with an ex-employee of the Stericycle medical waste incineration facility in North Salt Lake City, UT. And I want to say think you to you for joining us.
Ex-employee: You’re welcome.
Urry: What can you tell us about your employment there? What was your position or your tasks that you took care of?
Ex-employee: My position started as unloading the trucks. – And that lasted for about a week, and then I went to actually loading the belt that goes into the incinerator to burn everything. And the way they had us do it, we’d get… like BT-01’s are some of the cases they had, and they’d have us throw three or four on a scale, and just scan one of them. And each thing has a tag where who generated the…what hospital it came from, where it came from; each box had its own tag.
Urry: You said that they’d only have you scan one of them?
Ex-employee: They’d only have us scan one bar code for three containers.
Urry: And what was the reasoning behind that?
Ex-employee: Some were radioactive like the chemotherapy type stuff, and so we’d put that on the scale, but we’d scan the one that’s not radioactive – not the chemo. So, they’d burn it and everyone knows it’s kind of dangerous to burn that kind of stuff.
Urry: And so what kind of radiation detecting equipment do they have over there?
Ex-employee: I can’t remember just the name of the thing they had, but it’s actually to detect radiation. But, it worked when it wanted to.
Urry: What does that mean?
Ex-employee: If it actually detected it…it’s lucky if it was actually working right. All their equipment is pretty much ran down there. They like to Mickey Mouse things together to try to save money from actually putting repairs on everything — Like when they opened the bypass valve the other day… (I) think it was February when they did it. It probably was something they did wrong; something was malfunctioning and then instead of trying to fix it right, they just opened that one instead. Like, they do a lot of half-assed stuff.
Urry: So when these bags come in and they’re off-loaded are they scanning every single bag to test it for radioactive materials or?
Ex-employee: No. No.
Urry: Just a small fraction or do they just hand select some?
Ex-employee: I can’t remember what the exact tool’s name is that they use to detect radioactivity, but…
Urry: The Geiger Counter?
Ex-employee: That’s it. There’s a scale tight here that we put everything on to get the weights, and it goes across, and it’s supposed to work, but it worked only half the time.
Urry: So what happens if some radiation was detected in any of the bags? What would they do?
Ex-employee: Some of them they put on another truck so everything would look like they were doing everything right; but probably about half of it got put on the truck, the other half got burned.
Urry: So they would knowingly send radioactive bags right through the incinerator?
Ex-employee: Yes. Yes.
Urry: Was that being ordered by plant managers or how was that determined?
Ex-employee: By the supervisor.
Urry: By the supervisor? So there was literally someone…
Ex-employee: When I first started, I thought I was doing everything the right way cause I didn’t know; this was the first time I worked in an incinerator. So I was just doing my job. You know what I mean? — What I was getting paid to do.
Urry: So essentially a supervisor just kind of stands there and on a bag by bag basis…
Ex-employee: She wasn’t even in the plant after she told us what to do. So, she just trying to leave and go do her own thing.
Urry: And let’s talk about the amount of material that they are actually putting through there. We know there is a set amount of emissions that they are allowed to have and that probably is connected to the amount of materially that they’re running through the incinerator.
Urry: So I’m assuming they weigh these packages when they’re declared or how does that process work?
Ex-employee: Well, the way that it’s supposed to be done, like the way that state law told us we could do it is that each container we burn has to be weighed and scanned – each one separately – but we’d put like three, four, five, six of them on the scale at a time and scan one of them, and throw everything on the belt.
Urry: And that was because you were being ordered to do it that way by plant supervisors?
Urry: So only one in five or six bags was actually getting weighed?
Urry: Were there managers that… were they telling you to feed it through faster and faster at all expenses?
Ex-employee: Yes. They try to keep the warehouse less cluttered, ‘cause I mean, as fast as all the medical waste was coming, we couldn’t keep up with it. There’s no possible way one incinerator in Utah could keep up with everything. And we were the only ones in Utah that does it, so for all of the hospitals in Utah we’re getting everything, and there was no way we could keep up with it.
Urry: It’s our understanding that waste is also being shipped in to this facility from they say at least eight or nine states, but do you know of any other locations where waste is being shipped from?
Ex-employee: I was told that some was coming from Mexico, Canada — I was told it’s actually being shipped into the country to be burned there.
Urry: Did you see any of that waste?
Ex-employee: I seen some things that wasn’t like the normal stuff that we got there in cases and stuff. Like we call them BT-01s — say a gray case that has two flaps on the top of it. Ya’ know what I mean? (They’re) supposed to be locked shut but they’re never locked – they were just zip-tied shut. There’s those there’s… I mean, a lot of nasty stuff that comes through there.
Urry: Do the procedures or the way they go about conducting their business — does that change at all after 5 p.m. or in the late night hours? Did you notice any difference?
Ex-employee: I started off working the night shift, and the day shift is ran a little bit more stricter so if anyone comes in they can see if they are doing everything right, but the night shift we just pretty much… like our belt…what we’re supposed to be able to put in the hopper at one time is around 200 to 250 pounds at one time in the hopper and that’s…actually, the belt won’t go if you try to put more than that in there. We’d have to manually shut the hopper doors to get everything to start burning, and they’d always go up there and walk up the ladder and throw like five or six more just right into the hopper and burn them. So, they’re not even recorded at all.
Urry: We’ve actually heard stories of smoke billowing back into the facility.
Ex-employee: Yes. We called it smoking the building out.
Urry: Smoking the building out?
Urry: And that occurred while you were working there?
Ex-employee: Several times.
Urry: And so what happens under those circumstances? Is that a massive evacuation?
Ex-employee: No. They’d just tell us to keep working through it. They’d turn some fans on to try and get the stuff to come out, but…
Urry: What about protective gear? Are there masks? Is there any kinds of precautions that are being taken to protect workers?
Ex-employee: I never… I asked my supervisor at the time for a mask and everything, for like some kind of respirator and he told me that the only ones they would give us are the cheap paper ones they use for auto-body. So you know what I mean? Just like fiber masks that’s it. You know what I mean?
Urry: They won’t even spend money on respirator masks?
Ex-employee: The only thing they spent money on for us is our uniforms to be cleaned each week. That’s it.
Urry: Did they do anything to make you aware of, you know, the different, quite frankly, deadly poisons that are being generated in that incinerator?
Ex-employee: Not really.
Urry: Are they saying “hey, there could be dioxin or radioactive elements in this smoke?”
Ex-employee: No. When I got hired on, they told us that they test our blood every three months. That’s it.
Urry: What does that mean?
Ex-employee: Like to test for Hepatitis, AIDS, stuff like that. ‘Cause we’re supposed to have these gloves; they’re called armor gloves – ‘cause dealing with needles and everything like that. They’re not supposed to be able to be punctured, but I’ve actually had needles go through me and everything before; like through my hand. Luckily mine wasn’t a dirty needle. It was still clean. Needles have expiration dates, too, so…
Urry: Thank goodness for that. And so, you know, back to the amount of waste that’s actually coming through and what’s honestly being weighed and acknowledged that’s being burned in the incinerator — did you find that they were storing waste on site for longer than it’s supposed to be?
Urry: Because we understand that once the waste actually comes in, it’s only supposed to be on site for a certain amount of time. Is that correct?
Ex-employee: Yeah, I was told that the longest it could sit was 48 hours, and we’d have what they called a dry storage. I can’t remember what the boxes are called like the number of the boxes, but they were like these big, white, like probably around four by four – like four feet wide, four feet long and maybe two feet deep. And we empty the BT-01s in there and go shove them in the dry storage. That’s what they’d have us do with them. And there was trailers that were full, that would be out there for like a week.
Urry: And what was the purpose of…?
Ex-employee: Keepin’ it out of the warehouse and make it look nicer because legally someone can’t go up there and ask to break a seal on a trailer unless it’s DOT. So, they can’t just come in there and break the seal. You know what I mean?
Urry: Mmm hmm.
Ex-employee: So that’s how they’d kind of hide some of the stuff.
Urry: Everyone at this time knows that medical waste is being incinerator there, obviously.
Urry: You see, the signs out there they say, “we don’t want to breathe grandma’s ashes” and all of this kind of thing. What else have you seen burned in that incinerator? What other types of waste have you seen come through there other than human medical waste?
Ex-employee: I’ve seen animals come through there – dogs, cats, things like test animals that would come through there. We had a deer there one time. I think the deer was actually somebody that worked there shot it and just basically took all the meat out they wanted, and brought it in. You know what I mean?
Urry: Just pulled up to the incinerator and said take care of my deer carcass?
Ex-employee: Like, I never seen a garbage truck go there too. I think they burn all their trash there too.
Urry: Didn’t you say there were some burns there that had to be watched or supervised?
Ex-employee: Yeah, they had watches from like the police department and everything like that for like narcotics.
Urry: They’re burning narcotics in there?
Urry: In the incinerator? In the neighborhood?
Urry: Like what for example?
Ex-employee: Like heroine, cocaine, marijuana.
Urry: So not only is the neighborhood getting, you know, dioxin and “grandma’s ashes” and you know animal waste, they’re also getting cocaine and heroine? That’s what you are telling me?
Urry: These burns were supervised, correct?
Ex-employee: They’d drop them off and then the supervisor was supposed to stay there with us while we were doing it, and then they’d walk off. They’d just tell us what to do and they’d walk off. There was actually some people there that would take, like some employees there that would take like, um… We’d get pharmaceutical cases in. They’re supposed to be locked and everything like that. So you can’t get in them; you just burn the whole case. They’d actually break them open and there’d be like Percocets, Demerol, stuff like that in there, and they’d actually take it home with them. Methadone pills, methadone, all sorts of stuff people would take home.
Urry: Really? That’s, uh, pretty interesting stuff that is going on in there I’ve got to say. And so in the same token, there’s not supposed to be any heads or torsos accepted at the facility, correct?
Ex-employee: No. There’s not supposed to be no heads and no torsos, no.
Urry: Have you ever seen heads or torsos?
Ex-employee: I’ve seen a head.
Urry: What can you tell us about that?
Ex-employee: That it came from here in Utah. On that one we actually tried to do the right thing and send it back to the generator, like the place that it came from, but they wouldn’t accept it so they just threw it in the incinerator.
Urry: And so, the more we look into this, we’re finding there’s not very good oversight at the source where the waste is leaving from.
Urry: You know, I mean it’s like asking the hospitals to regulate and babysit themselves as far as what they are sending.
Ex-employee: Pretty much. I mean, they get stuff from like… every place you can think (of) that has anything to do biologically, we’d get it. Like from the Plasma donation centers, abortion clinics, every hospital you can think of pretty much in Utah. You know what I mean?
Urry: Other than their, you know, inadequate apparently, radiation testing that’s going on there, what other kind of inspection do they do at Stericycle to see if there’s heads in there?
Ex-employee: I’ve never really seen any kind of inspection going on there honestly.
Urry: Just throw it on the conveyor belt and burn it all up.
Urry: Was there ever any talk amongst plant workers or, you know, fellow employees there about the possibility of prions or human mad cow disease? Is this something your fellow workers were aware of?
Ex-employee: No. The most thing that people were nervous about is getting cancer. That is the most common thing people talked about. I was more scared of catching AIDS. But, you know what I mean? Dealing with the blood and…Like we’d get blood from like the mortuaries and stuff like that to dispose of. That’s what I was more nervous about was actually getting AIDS from dealing with that kind of stuff – ‘cause we’d get containers that would say “AIDS tainted blood” or “hepatitis tainted blood” – Stuff like that. I didn’t like touching them. It actually kind of scared the hell out of me.
Urry: What other stories can you actually tell us about what goes on in there?
Ex-employee: Um, like some of the stuff…I remember one of the supervisors would go up there, and she’d basically tells us, like right when our shift started – like my shift was the graveyard like I told you; 6 to 6 – that was basically everybody’s shift. It was ran 24 hours a day. And, when I first started there she was telling me all of these stories about like how people were saying that we were doing the “devil’s work” or something like that. And she said they could “go to hell”… If they want to come and talk bad about it, she’ll put them in the incinerator too and dispose of them. Everyone that works there they…Like there’s a few good people that are just like working there to support their family. You know what I mean? But, there’s a lot of people who don’t give a damn about anything there honestly – and that’s mainly all the management honestly.
Urry: And speaking of the management, you know, did you notice any deliberate moves that would take place in the facility around compliance tests? I mean, would they make any special preparations or did you observe anything like that going on to prepare for tests or inspections?
Ex-employee: The only time that they’d actually prepare for an inspection is like when they knew it was coming; they’d have us all go the night before and hurry and clean everything up — repaint yellow stripes and basically make it look all nice and clean before they got there.
Urry: They’d have you guys repaint the facility?
Ex-employee: Just like the caution yellow like for the handrails and where everything is supposed to go. They’d have us go sweep by the trailers to go clean all the needles up that had hit the ground and behind the incinerator because there was stuff that’d fall off the belt, and it would just stack up right there. And then they’d have us, they call it “punching the boiler.” We’d shut the incinerator down and let it get down to about 250 degrees, and we’d crawl in there and clean it out. We’d have to punch the boiler and get sprayed with this nasty ass water.
Urry: Wow! You’ve actually been inside the incinerator?
Urry: Cleaning the incinerator?
Ex-employee: Chipping the glass out from all the vials. Yeah.
Urry: Did they give you any kind of protective gear when you were in there working on the incinerator?
Ex-employee: They gave us a jacket.
Urry: A Jacket!?
Ex-employee: They gave us like this…(laughs)
Urry: Like it’s supposed to be the magic jacket of protection?
Ex-employee: It’s like a raincoat type thing. Almost like they’d have like a garden hose type thing spraying us to keep us cool a little bit. That was pretty much it. (laughs)
Urry: But no respirators? Nothing to…
Ex-employee: Just those cheap ones you can buy at Wal-Mart. You know what I mean? What are they called? Like almost like the felt masks.
Urry: It sounds like a pretty unbelievable scene in there. Did any major bypass events go down at the facility when you were there?
Ex-employee: Not when I worked there except for the ones when we smoked out the building. You know what I mean? But… Like I’ve seen them do all sorts of stuff there like… When everything’s burned, it’s supposed to be looked at to make sure everything’s burned all the way through, and if not, it’s supposed to be taken off the exit belt, and taken back to the other belt and burned again. But, they wouldn’t do that. They didn’t care. They’d just send it back to the landfill.
Urry: So you’re saying that things go through the incinerator: this is cadaver parts or this is animal parts, and they don’t turn into ash. They come out whole, or they come out still partially intact on the other side?
Ex-employee: Yeah. I’ve actually done it myself where I’d go over there and take a hammer and smash bones up and everything. (laughs) I’ve taken like… Like you can tell what they are when they come out too ‘cause… I’ve taken titanium hip replacements, knee replacements, just stuff like that. You know what I mean?
Urry: They actually had you smash up bones?
Ex-employee: Yeah. (laughs)
Urry: And what was the point of that?
Ex-employee: So when they go to the landfill, you can’t tell what they are.
Urry: So instead of just throw it back in the other pile and send it through the incinerator; they went to the lengths to actually have you go out there and you know…
Ex-employee: Smash ‘em in the dumpster. Yeah.
Urry: Smash them in the dumpster. This is just a daily occurrence at good ol’ Stericycle?
Ex-employee: Well the bones usually got burned pretty good the first time around, but that incinerator has problems. Sometimes, all the… ‘Cause after it’s lit, it only pretty much just runs off itself. You know what I mean? But, sometimes when it goes out, the pilot light won’t light it up like it’s supposed to. Like the thermostat on it itself to keep it at a certain temperature – yeah, it didn’t work.
Urry: So basically it could be running at…
Ex-employee: It could be running at 2,000 degrees; it could be running at 5,000 degrees.
Urry: And essentially nobody knows; it’s just kind of a crapshoot or?
Urry: So it’s not monitored very well?
Urry: There’s not very good monitoring gear on there as far as the uniformity inside of the incinerator?
Urry: Or anything like that?
Ex-employee: Not really, no.
Urry: What’s it like in the building when a bypass episode is going on and they open the bypass stack?
Ex-employee: The first thing they do is they tell you not to talk to anybody — like anybody from outside the building — they tell you not to say a damn thing to nobody.
Ex-employee: Anybody that’s outside of the building, you don’t talk to them at all. (If) they ask you questions and everything, you don’t talk to them at all. You just walk by them you don’t even know them. You know what I mean? And, like they told us not to talk about Stericycle even to our family members after we got off work.
Urry: What is their reasoning behind that? When they say, you know…
Ex-employee: Because well, they made the excuse saying they were going through a big thing with the Foxboro type thing and everything like that. They were sayin’ that there’s too much at risk to talk to our family members; they say one of our family members could be someone that’s environmentalist and everything like that; they wouldn’t like it. You know what I mean?
Urry: Mm hm.
Ex-employee: So that’s why they didn’t want us to talk about it to our family members.
Urry: So there’s kind of a gag order if you will?
Ex-employee: Pretty much yeah.
Urry: What more can you tell us about the management there, maneuvers they’ve made, actions that they’ve taken to push the incinerator to greater and greater capacity despite better judgment?
Ex-employee: Pretty much the way that some of the managers there thought of it (is) that if they weren’t there, they couldn’t get in trouble for it. So, they’d tell us what to do, then they’d leave. You know what I mean? So, if they’re not on the scene, they can’t get in trouble for what’s going on. Does that make sense to you?
Urry: Yes, except for the power of subpoena and things like that.
Urry: But what would they tell you to do?
Ex-employee: They’d go up there and point out… We have some in there like, they look like 55-gallon trashcans, but they’re full of body parts. Like I mean seriously like… the easiest way I can say it is like guts, like stomachs, livers, stuff like that. Stuff from the hospital and stuff from like the medical schools and everything like that. Like cadavers you know what I mean? And they’d go “we can’t just put it in there,” or they’d say something about “we can’t burn this yet but do it anyway” because some of the things they’d have to get special orders to burn, and they’d tell us to put it anyway just don’t scan it; just dump it over the top of the hopper. And, I honestly threw up a couple of times emptying those things. But…
When you walk into the building it’s the worst smell you could imagine in your life. It seriously stinks. They don’t keep anything cleaned. We even asked for… what’s it called? It’s not air freshener, it’s um, it’s like a sanitation thing that’s supposed to keep the…it’s the same stuff they use in hospitals to clean the ORs down with and everything so they keep the smell down and everything, and they wouldn’t even do it. They’d give us Lysol. No, it was Pine Sol, sorry. Pine Sol does not cover up the smell of rotting blood and everything. It doesn’t.
Urry: On that topic, we were speaking with our mutual friend beforehand, and she was mentioning something about, you know, you got blood all over your shoes or something like that. What can you tell us about that experience?
Ex-employee: I’d walk up the belt and everything and actually step on like, you name it, brains, hearts, blood, everything. I’d have to climb up the belt to get a container unstuck or something. I’m serious, I probably came home with probably like at least 500 different people’s DNA on my boots. (laughs)
Urry: Wow! And no precautions at all to have any of those, you know, biologicals or potential disease agents…?
Ex-employee: No. Like I’d still go up there. I’d do the best I could to keep my boots clean at work. After I got off work I’d spray them down with like rubbing alcohol and stuff like that, but that’s the best I could do there.
Urry: It’s almost… I can’t even imagine what the scene looks like in there.
Ex-employee: It’s horrible in there, but they pay good. You know what I mean? So…
Urry: But you say there was very little precautions in place to give you guys any…
Ex-employee: It was pretty much like taking like a group of kindergarteners into a candy shop and saying not to touch anything; everyone’s going to touch everything. You know what I mean? They’re going to do what they want to get rid of it and everything. Like they’d give out bonuses if you could get, like I say, all the BT-01s done in one week, they’d give you like a weekly bonus. So, they (were) basically, in a way bribing their employees to do it.
Urry: One thing that surfaced last year was an email between two DAQ employees that essentially alluded to the notion that Stericycle had been flying around, essentially a special agent, to their various locations before compliance tests in an effort to optimize stack performance and stuff like that?
Urry: Did you see ever anything like that going on at the facility?
Ex-employee: I was told there was…
Urry: Special people coming in or?
Ex-employee: There was one day when I got to work, after I started day shift, they told me hurry and get everything clean and everything, there’s going to be someone coming in around 9, 10 o’clock. And they go “make sure everything is done; make sure everyone is doing their job properly”, and they told me to go make sure the trailers were locked. And, ‘cause they got stuff stored in the trailers that they don’t want… And the trailers weren’t registered either. They didn’t have no plates on them or anything, so they’d just sit there; like they say “parts trailers” or just trailers waiting to get registered. Stuff like that. But…
We’d have the pump truck come in about once a week to pump the water out that we were using to… everything is coming out of the incinerator; there’s like water just sprayed on everything, to make sure everything’s out. All that water’d just basically be recirculated in there. And then the pump truck would come get it, and I have no clue what they did with it after that. But…
Urry: Do you have any information on what was incinerated on any of those times, or were you there?
Ex-employee: The one bypass that I remember…
Urry: What particular things were being incinerated on those bad bypasses that were caught by (the) public in big, black, inky…?
Ex-employee: Usually what’s being burned when it comes out really dark and black is the BT-01s.
Urry: Which is?
Ex-employee: It could have anything in it bro. Like anything at all.
Whistleblower’s spouse: Tell him about the hand smacking.
Ex-employee: That could get me in trouble…
Whistleblower’s spouse: Oh that’s true. That’s true.
Ex-employee: Like we’d actually… Some of the bags that would come in there, like red biohazard bags, but they’d rip open and everything and there’d be arms, legs, feet. One ripped open and everything, like I seriously started crying when I seen that one ‘cause it was actually a bag full of fetuses.
Urry: You’ve seen fetuses come through the facility?
Urry: How common of an occurrence is that? I mean, is that something that you’ve seen a lot of, or just on that one occasion?
Ex-employee: I’ve seen that a lot. I started knowing which bags had what in it by the looks of them, and if I seen one that looked like that I’d just toss it. I didn’t want to look at them anymore. ‘Cause some of them we had to look to see if there was any way it could be chemo stuff. ‘Cause I’d try to do the chemo stuff. I’d try to throw (it) off to the side.
Urry: Is that because it’s going to be tested further, or because it could be radioactive?
Ex-employee: Because it could be radioactive and everything. They’re supposed to be put in certain containers, but they weren’t. And that could be either Stericycle switching them out, or it could be the hospitals not doing their job properly. So…
Urry: But you’ve definitely, you know, seen supervisors order the incineration of bags that were known and tested to be radioactive?
Urry: And was it known by employees of the facility that that is a direct violation of their Title V air pollution permit?
Ex-employee: At the time when I was working there, no, I didn’t know that part, but there had to be somebody that knew it. They didn’t tell me any of the parts of like what the violations could be or anything. They just basically told me, this is your job, do it. So…
Urry: Quite the show in there.
Ex-employee: What are those machines called that measure earthquakes?
Ex-employee: Yeah, it’s almost like that but it spins in a wheel on the side of the belt, and it basically records everything we’re putting in there. And they’d go up there and they’d put like a rubber band around this pin and everything, and they’d pull it back so that it would just be spinning, (but) it wouldn’t be recording. And then after they’d go back, like, you know, after it’s been spinning just for a while without recording anything…
Urry: Okay, now what is it that that machine records again? The weight of the objects?
Ex-employee: It records all the weight that we’re putting in.
Urry: And so the supervisors would actually do that themselves…
Urry: …or would they have somebody else do it?
Ex-employee: The supervisor, but I never messed with it; you have to have a key to unlock it. So… The only other way that everything is recorded is by receipts that would print off the computer. Like, I don’t even think it was actually being recorded properly in the computer. Like when you put something in the hopper, it would take seven minutes for it to basically go from the hopper, all the way through to the other end. It takes seven minutes each time, and not everything gets burned in seven minutes.
Urry: You said that you had seen quite a few animals and animal parts come through the facility as well?
Urry: And did that change over the time when you were there or was it going on when you first got started all the way to the end?
Ex-employee: When I first got started, there was a lot more of it; towards the end before I left there, it started slowing down. I think it was because they were thinkin’ people were getting suspicious. Like, people would bring stuff from home and burn it there. Like, I’m not sure what they would be burning, but they’d bring stuff that they had to get rid of. You know what I mean? It’s just easier to bring it to work to get rid of it instead of paying the fee at the landfill.
Urry: Who were employees you mean?
Urry: Just throw anything in there – trash from home? Throw it on the truck and through it goes huh?
Ex-employee: Yeah. (laughs)
They don’t even keep their trucks clean the way they are supposed to. Like after each time those trucks get unloaded they are supposed to be pressure washed inside and out, and basically used… It’s almost like green soap. It’s supposed to be sterilized and everything each time the truck’s unloaded. They don’t do it. ‘Cause I mean you figure, some of the stuff could be leaking… the boxes on the trucks will probably be leaking too. (They) could be getting that stuff anywhere down the road.
Urry: It sounds pretty much like Stericycle is cutting as many corners as possible to bolster the bottom line.
Urry: Would you say that’s pretty much an accurate assessment?
Ex-employee: Yeah. Pretty much Stericycle, what they remind me of is like a redneck trying to fix a car. They put more stuff together with baling wire than they do properly, you what I mean, how they fix things.
Urry: Hodgepodge kind of?
Ex-employee: Yeah. Like, I call it “the spatula” – it’s the only thing I could describe it as. It’s a big ram that goes inside the incinerator and drags everything out. That thing didn’t even work right pretty much. There’d be times we’d have to get in there with shovels and pitchforks and drag that stuff out by hand. Like, I didn’t tell my girlfriend the time, because she probably would never let me back in the house if I told her some the stuff but… (laughs)
Urry: Yeah, for sure. What’s your thought process about this move that’s going on out at Tooele?
Ex-employee: Honestly, I don’t think they should be out there but… Like before, I was like against all the stuff about Foxboro and stuff like that…
Urry: As far as the protests?
Ex-employee: Yeah. Like I was told that everyone who bought a house out there had to sign a paper saying they wouldn’t go against Stericycle because honestly, Stericycle’s been there, I know this is a fact, Stericycle’s been there a lot longer than that neighborhood’s been there.
Urry: That’s true.
Ex-employee: Because before it was Stericycle, it was BFI, which I worked for BFI also, but I didn’t work for the incinerator part.
Urry: The question is is should that even matter, you know, under the circumstances that…
Ex-employee: BFI’s no more, so I’m not worried about that one.
Urry: Yeah. Just that there’s so many residential dwellings built up around it now, so many children…
Ex-employee: Oh yeah. I started reading a lot of stuff online and some of the stuff I’ve heard from other people that’s in that neighborhood… Like there’s like a lot of sick kids and everything through there, and everything. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was Stericycle causing it. ‘Cause you go everywhere else pretty much in Utah, and there could be sick kids, but it’s not anywhere near like what Foxboro is. So… I honestly think they should just be shut down completely.
Oh yeah, the fly ash off from the… like it’d go through a boiler; it was like a big bag on the other side, ‘cause the room was just boilers in it and everything. It’s supposed to keep, catch most the fly ash and everything like that, and they told us that they keep like 95 percent of all toxins out of the exhaust from the incinerator, which I don’t believe anymore. So it’d be these big bags of fly ash; it would be like the metals — all cancer causing; and they’d have us change them – no respirators when we were changing that bag, nothing. Like, we’d get it on our hands and our gloves and our boots and our… Everywhere.
Urry: Well and we had read that it is very common to see incinerator ash still active with sepsis and certainly with prions, which cause human mad cow disease, and so the ash is known to be infectious.
Ex-employee: Oh yeah. Any disease known to man is probably in that building honestly.
Urry: And they don’t take much precaution to contain the ash that comes off, or how is that managed?
Ex-employee: I want to say that it goes through like a boiler and it’s supposed to help keep everything kind of… it puts the moisture into it ‘cause usually whenever you see Stericycle’s stacks going it looks like just vapor coming out and that’s what’s supposed to be helping keep the ash down. They use um, oh what’s it called? I can’t remember the chemical now that they have in there.
Whistleblower’s spouse: Ammonia
Ex-employee: Yeah, ammonia. They’d have a truck come in and we get these containers of ammonia that were probably about 200 gallons at a time. It was supposed to do something with keeping everything down in there, but then after that it just goes through this big screw type of thing, and then after it gets to the bottom, and it’s like a big drill-bit that just pushes it down into these sacks. And they go into like a burlap sack type thing with a plastic bag inside and we’d just basically duct tape them shut and send them over. I don’t where they go after…
Urry: You don’t know where they take the ash whether it goes to Clean Harbors solid and hazardous landfill or?
Ex-employee: No, I have no clue where that goes. They never told me; they just told me to load it on trucks and everything. They wouldn’t let me see the paperwork or anything, and I never once signed my name to any of those.
‘Cause every time I loaded a truck… Most of the time when I was loading trucks it would be like empty containers going back on, but I’d have to sign my name to them saying I completed the task. On the one with the fly ash, they wouldn’t want me to sign my names to them. But…
Urry: Anything else?
Ex-employee: Uh, there’d be people playing around with like limbs and stuff there.
Urry: Just like, you know, playing football with somebody’s hand, throwing it around the facility. Or what?
Ex-employee: I’ve seen people like kick stuff across the floor and everything, making jokes about it.
Urry: It sounds like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, man.
Ex-employee: Kind of. (laughs)
Whistleblower’s spouse: Tell him about the… what are they called? – when they do the fake knees?
Ex-employee: Oh, knee replacements and everything? They’re made out of titanium, and titanium’s worth quite a bit of money. Stericycle didn’t want nothing to do with it, so there were some employees there that would take the replacements and everything, and take them into recycle them and get the money for them, which, I didn’t really dare to do it because I know each one of those have a serial number on them – basically just like a social security number to you. You know what I mean? So if it gets put in your body, it’s registered to you for life. So I didn’t want to touch any of that stuff, but there were people there that’d take that kind of stuff there. Like some of the stuff that we burned through like some of the human body parts, the flesh wouldn’t even be burned off of them yet totally before they…
Urry: On the other side?
Ex-employee: Yeah. So, what’s that movie called? Have you ever seen “Night of the Living Dead?” (laughs) You know like when they’re burning the zombies and everything and you can see like the burning flesh how it just looks after they’re put out and everything? Yeah. Think about barbequed chicken on a barbequer – there you go.
Whistleblower’s spouse: (Inaudible)
Ex-employee: Anyone hungry for chicken? (laughs)
Urry: They make you just go in there and deal with all that stuff by hand, huh?
Urry: Another good old day at Stericycle?
Ex-employee: The only like bonus part of it was they’d let us take showers after work. They actually would have a shower facility there. Like we could go so far into our street clothes and before we’d go into like the locker room… after we were on the other side we had to be in uniform there. So…
Urry: So that was one nice little perk of the job?
Ex-employee: That was like the only thing they did right.
Whistleblower’s spouse: You mentioned… (inaudible)
Ex-employee: Oh yeah, we couldn’t um… like when we’d go on break and everything, we’d have to take at least our Stericycle shirt off before we could leave the property at all because they didn’t want anyone to know where we worked. They said that they were scared for our safety. (laughs)
Urry: They don’t want anyone in the neighborhood to know that you’re affiliated with Stericycle essentially?
Ex-employee: Yeah. Exactly.
Urry: An extension of the gag order you were discussing earlier?
Ex-employee: Pretty much yeah.
Urry: Well they have been under a little bit of heat, a little bit of a media firestorm.
Ex-employee: I heard about Erin Brockovich and everything like that. I thought it was like some kind of gag everybody was talking about. You know what I mean? Like honestly, I didn’t even know she was a real person; I thought it was just a movie, but it turns out it’s true. So…
Urry: What’s your thoughts about her getting involved in this battle?
Ex-employee: At first, I thought it was kind of silly and everything and that they were just wasting their time. You know what I mean? ‘cause like I was told, the management there told me that everyone there signed a paper saying they wouldn’t go against Stericycle if they moved in that neighborhood. And I guess that’s how it was when they first built it. Everyone had to sign that, but after people move out and (the) new people comes in…
Ex-employee: The people that moved in after them; it was like void then. You know what I mean.
Urry: Yeah. The houses were sold without full disclosure to the new parties coming in.
Ex-employee: Uh huh. Like I was told that it wouldn’t go against them at all – is what I was told that they had to sign. I remember coming into work one day and we had signs out front saying “Eviction Notice.”
Urry: Did you run those signs through the incinerator?
Ex-employee: Yes, we did. (Yes)
Whistleblower’s spouse: They actually put a sign back out that said…(rent was paid…)
Ex-employee: …that said “rent was paid MF” – you know what that means.
Urry: They did huh? They had a little response to the neighborhood on that one?
Ex-employee: Like we did have someone through there at Foxboro that threw, I don’t know if it was someone from Foxboro or what, but they threw like bags of fake blood at us.
Urry: Really? Like as you were coming into work or they were throwing them at your car?
Ex-employee: Yeah. At people that was walking by there.
Urry: And do you think there’s, you know, is there an empathetic aspect to employees there? Did they understand why people are, you know, so outraged about this facility? –
Ex-employee: The smart ones maybe.
Urry: Or is it just like you’re trying to kill my job and screw you? — Or do they actually understand that there’s a real danger from the facility? Has awareness of that grown with, you know, all of the…?
Ex-employee: I think so. Like a little bit, but like honestly, the night shift when I worked there, there was three people there I could talk to. There was only three people there that could understand English. So…
Urry: Meaning that there is a lot of foreigners working in there?
Urry: Mostly Hispanics or?
Urry: The majority of the employees?
Ex-employee: I think through the whole thing is… the management’s… they’re white, then… for the actual crew that works there, there’s probably, maybe, out of all of them, maybe six white people; the rest are Hispanic.
Urry: And there’s about 50 people we understand that work there?
Ex-employee: Yeah. 50, 60 people.
Urry: Mm hm.
Ex-employee: I mean they probably hire probably at least, I’d say, 25 new people a month at least.
Ex-employee: It’s just got a really high turnover rate from the smell and everything when you walk in there.
Urry: That’s how fast they’re revolving through those jobs?
Ex-employee: The same day I started, there was a guy that walked in there, puked and left.
Urry: Just like that?
Ex-employee: Just like that.
Urry: Do you get used to it at all or is it just always just…?
Ex-employee: You get used to it a little bit, but like when you open a container and that has blood in it and you dump it; you know what I mean you kind of open it and then you think you have it sealed, and so you just throw it on there and it breaks open, or you empty one that the blood’s leaked into the container — There’s no getting used to that smell. It’s nasty. I don’t know how to describe the smell to you guys.
Urry: I hope it’s a smell I never have to smell.
Ex-employee: I hope so, too. (laughs)
Ex-employee: Wait, what are those books called? For every chemical company has they’re supposed to have this sheets.
Ex-employee: MSDS books. I went to go and look at one of them and it’s like half there. It doesn’t say anything about, like formaldehyde in there – ‘cause we’d get that in there, and everyone knows that’s cancer causing. There wasn’t nothing about ammonia in there. Nothing about… Like they should even have something to do about like what you should do, like something posted, like what you should do if you get blood on you or something. They don’t have anything like that.
Urry: Really? No safety protocols?
Ex-employee: The only really safety protocol they had there is that you had to go get Gatorade every half hour.
Urry: Get Gatorade? Is that like to stay hydrated?
Ex-employee: I mean, It gets hot in that warehouse, like really hot. The incinerator could be running at 3900 degrees… With all the doors open and everything… We got in trouble sometimes for keeping the doors open. But I went up and told my boss one time I go “I’m not going to stay in here”. There was probably like five or six of us that went up there and said the same thing — that we’re not going to be in there with all of the doors closed. It’s way too hot. Like it probably gets about, I’d say about 150 – 160 degrees in that warehouse.
Urry: Geez. And, I mean, there’s been a lot of talk out there about, you know, there being more cutting edge technologies to deal with this medical waste that would…
Ex-employee: I’ve heard of a lot of it, and some of it I don’t agree with like the autoclaving and stuff like that. Like how’s that going to get rid of the needle itself? You know what I mean? How’s it going to get rid of the like, amputations and everything.
Urry: There’s some new technologies where they ozonate it and shred it into this confetti type stuff and there’s a lot of that out there, but under the current circumstances, you know, what should Stericycle be doing, in your opinion, to better protect their employees and…?
Ex-employee: Change their slogan for one ‘cause it’s not even accurate anymore.
Urry: Change their slogan?
Ex-employee: Yeah. “Reducing Risk, Protecting People”, yeah, right. (laughs)
Urry: What about all of this business of just always maxing out the incinerator? — Always just pushing it harder and harder?
Ex-employee: That’s like dangerous, I mean that thing could go… if you keep maxing something out like that it can actually blow. You know what I mean? – ‘Cause the boiler can only handle so much at a time. I mean, there’s a lot of pressure going through that thing.
Urry: And you say they run it to pretty unsafe limits over there?
Ex-employee: Oh yeah. Well, like the management, I know they get like kickbacks and everything, if they, like bonuses if you will from whoever actually owns Stericycle. I know they get like some kind of bonus if they get rid of everything. ‘Cause why else would someone be pushing that hard to get rid of everything? They had like employee incentives there like if, say you’re on time to work every day for the month or the quarter, you get a $500 bonus. If you get rid of everything in the week that they want you to get rid of, your workload for the week, you get $100 bonus on your check. But, stuff like that. So I can understand why some people would be doing the stuff they were doing there, just to get more money to feed their families and everything, but there’s a lot of wrong going on in there, like a lot. It’d be the trailers I was telling you about.
Urry: The trailers that were just basically piled up with excess waste.
Ex-employee: Yeah. They’d take them off and if someone asked about it, they’d say they were going to get a DOT inspection done on them; when a DOT inspection could be done right there in the yard.
Urry: But they were full of waste at the time.
Urry: Any idea where they took those trucks?
Ex-employee: Probably just driving around honestly.
Urry: Just to get them off the location?
Ex-employee: Yeah. Like the pallets that stuff would come in on, those pallets are supposed to be destroyed after we’d unload them, because stuff could leak on them and everything like that. They were selling them to a pallet yard. So who knows if they were going to like end up in Wal-Mart or somewhere else. You know what I mean? But… (laughs)
Urry: Oh boy. Well, we want to say thank you very much for taking the time to illuminate to our audience about what goes on behind closed doors over at the great mystery that is Stericycle. So thank you.
Ex-employee: Well, hopefully, if I helped, there is no mystery really anymore.
Urry: Indeed, so thank you for taking the time with us this evening. Appreciate it.
FILM AND ARTICLE CREDITS
- Emerson Urry - Director, Producer, Interviewer, Video Editor, Captions, Sound Editor, 3D Animator
- Shad Engkilterra - Transcript
- Seth Urry - Sound Filters