(EnviroNews California) – “How are we going to dispose of it without destroying ourselves?” This was the question posed by celebrity activist Erin Brockovich to EnviroNews California during a full-feature sit-down interview in Los Angeles.
Medical waste is a topic that most people have probably given very little thought to in their lives. They go to the doctor to get a checkup or a shot in the arm, maybe even an x-ray and some pills, or in the worst case perhaps they have a cancerous mass removed. But just what is the aftermath of all that “holistic” activity?
There used to be 2,373 medical waste incinerators across America, designated to deal with the remnants of all those doctors’ office visits and medical procedures. Today, there are only 33 left that we are aware of at EnviroNews. “Why?” one might ask. The answer to that is simple: Legislation at the state level that has outright banned the burning of medical waste across the country, coupled with good ol’-fashioned pitchforks and community outrage.
Finally, after years and years of Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator pumping untold amounts of deadly poison into one of the most densely populated areas in the United States, we are starting to see that same one-two legislative/activism punch thrown in Utah.
After it was revealed earlier this year that Stericycle had been busted for cheating on stack tests in an effort to “cook the books” surrounding their deadly dioxin emissions, community outrage came boiling to the surface; a plethora of town hall meetings and downright-heated protests have since ensued against the old waste burner’s continuing to operate.
In addition, a Republican State Senator by the name of Todd Weiler, who originally took a lot of heat for having defended the company at a town hall, as well as in social media and blogospheres, has now announced that he will introduce legislation that will seek to accomplish an all-out ban on the burning of medical waste in the State of Utah.
Although some citizens are concerned about whether the bill will actually have any “teeth,” they are still hopeful that it will accomplish what Weiler says it will. Some have voiced skepticism, saying that Weiler’s announcement could be just a publicity stunt to recover popularity after a firestorm of criticism from constituents that followed pessimistic and snarky remarks he made at a town hall meeting: “I can sponsor a bill, and I can tell you how far it’ll get. But if you want me to run a bill, I’ll run it,” he said to the angry crowd back in July.
When confronted by local Fox13′s Nineveh Dinha about the dismissive and inherently contradictory remarks captured on the EnviroNews Utah video, Senator Weiler did relent, admitting that he had “learned a lot” about medical waste in the last couple of months and now feels confident that he can get a bill moved through Utah’s Republican-dominated, lopsided legislature. That remains to be seen, but residents are holding out hope that Weiler will actually pull through for them.
Naturally, many Republicans and Democrats in the already air-pollution-crippled Salt Lake Valley would be thrilled if a bill like Weiler is proposing were to pass, taking the horrendous and deadly toxic activities of Stericycle (and Clean Harbors Aragonite) out of their backyard, but then what? Stericycle is already accepting bottom-of-the-barrel medical junk from at least eight states, and that stuff will have to be dealt with somewhere and somehow.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a group of over 300 doctors, says that there is never any excuse to incinerate medical waste into the open environment, claiming that there are better ways to deal with it, and that all the incineration process really does is vaporize one of the deadliest cocktails known to man back into the air and water. This, they say, in turn causes disease in people and animals again, not to mention a degradation of our genes — in essence creating a vicious cycle and the greatest imaginable hypocrisy toward the “do no harm” Hippocratic Oath, an oath that doctors have all sworn to uphold.
The deadly cocktail that the physicians’ group is speaking out about so fervently these days includes mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, hydrogen fluoride gas, dioxin, furan, cancer-treatment byproducts, diseased human cadaver parts, infected animal and veterinary waste, tumors, fluids, almost certainly radiation and invariably fatal brain-destroying prions, as well as much, much more. Stericycle has also been accused by many in the past for feeding “aborted fetuses” through their nasty waste burner, for the smoke to be inhaled by the local townsfolk and nearby schoolchildren.
The battle surrounding Stericycle has been raging so fiercely that Brockovich said she felt “compelled” to get involved after hearing the dramatic “outcry” of local mothers and women in the adjoining Foxboro community. Brockovich, who is the subject of the Academy Award-winning Julia Roberts movie Erin Brockovich, has now cost the Pacific Gas & Electric Company judgments of $333 million and $335 million from her legendary class-action suits for chromium 6 contamination in groundwater.
With roughly 98% of the nation’s medical waste incinerators now being out of commission, the question was posed to Brockovich if legislation at the federal level should be proposed that would seek to end the burning of medical waste in the United States, once and for all.