Stericycle butts heads with county

CLINTON — Representatives of Stericycle received something of a chilly welcome on Tuesday as they met with the county board’s land use committee.

What to Stericycle might have seemed a simple procedure became adversarial in nature during its presentation to board members.  Stericycle, Inc. attorney Dan Moran, along with the company’s engineer and regional compliance manager, attended the land use meeting to request a change in the language of its original site agreement with the county, dating from the late 1980s.  Members of the committee, however, were quick to reject the suggestion that the county was responsible for making the changes.

Moran said the language in the original site agreement “clearly spelled out” that the facility would be a full-service disposal facility for infectious and medical waste.  But, changes in the protocol for handling such waste now requires separate handling for some classes of medical waste.

Stericycle follows the protocol, but the IEPA is asking the company to have changes made in its agreement with the county to reflect its specific handling of waste types.

“Even though the approval itself did not specify specific types of waste that could be accepted, it did approve the facility for the incineration of these medical wastes,” Moran told committee members.

The Clinton Stericylcle facility has been in operation since 1991 following approval of its operating permit by the IEPA.

Changes in the protocols for disposing of medical waste came about in order to keep types, such as pharmaceuticals, out of the country’s waterways.  Rather than disposing of all medical waste in essentially the same manner, separate procedures were proscribed for the various types of waste.

Some waste types accepted at Stericycle are transported to other facilities to keep them out of the local landfill.  Wastes that are incinerated stay at the Clinton facility; wastes that must go through steam sterilization are transported elsewhere.

Land use committee members, however, balked at recommending the county be involved in making the requested changes.

Committee chairman Sue Whitted expressed uneasiness about the county being involved in making changes to its original agreement, although she was not specific about why.

Committee member Randy Perring said he felt, since Stericycle had been handling the waste all along, the company’s issue seemed more likely to be with the IEPA.

But, Moran said the IEPA was the agency that directed Stericycle to the county in order to make the changes.

As far as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) is concerned, counties and municipalities exercise the authority to approve sites for waste disposal facilities, therefore they have sole authority to make changes to the agreements.

Moran said the IEPA established a larger role for these entities in approving such sites in the Environmental Protection Act of 1984.

The original site application approved by the county was with an environmental waste company, NES, that was subsequently bought by Stericycle.

Moran said the information in the originally approved site agreement made clear the county board at the time was approving the site to handle all of the medical waste it now handles.  Committee members disagreed, most commenting that it was not possible to know.

He said making changes in the language would make official what Stericycle already had been doing.

“But, it’s now a city problem,” said chairman Whitted.  She was referring to the city’s annexation of the Stericycle property.

Moran said it did not make any difference.  Under the Environmental Protection Act, the entity that approved the site was responsible for changes in the agreement.

“As a matter of law, the City of Clinton does not have any site approval over this incinerator,” Moran said.

He added that he was in contact with city officials, “and they are supportive.”

“Only DeWitt County has the authority to clarify the language,” Moran said.

“But, does the county want to stick its neck out for something the city should say ‘yes’ to,” Whitted asked.

If the committee members were worried about the safety of the facility, Moran said, “it was not on the county’s back.”

He said the IEPA has the authority to determine if Stericycle was operating in a safe manner.

It frustrates Stericle management, too, that some waste that comes from Warner Hospital must be transported to the company’s Gary, Ind., facility simply because the language in the original site agreement was not specific enough.

Committee member Melonie Tilley said she felt the county already met its obligation by approving the site application.

“I think you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Tilley told Moran.  “The county had to do the siting (sic), and we’ve done that no matter what the words were back in 1987 or what they are today.  I’m not going to make that decision as to what you guys are going to do.”

If the site met zoning code when the agreement was approved; that was the extent of the county’s responsibility, Tilley expressed.  She said Stericycle should go back to the IEPA.

Moran repeated that the IEPA plays no part in approving the site.

“What they have to look at is ‘did you get a site approval that in the agency’s mind would allow them to take action in regard to these waste streams’, which we say were included in the original site agreement,” Moran said.  

Moran said he felt the board that passed the original site agreement understood it was approving disposal of a variety of medical waste.

The Clinton Stericycle facility employees about 50 people.

Video News
More In Homepage