Posted by: Caitlin Cavanaugh | November 29, 2010

Medical waste incineration facility has Alamance County concerned; Elon’s Board of Aldermen discuss what will be voted on next Tuesday

By Caitlin Cavanaugh

Twenty-two states. Three incinerators.

Stericycle, according to Heather Bjork a resident of Alamance County, is importing from 22 different states to North Carolina to be burned. “We are needlessly being put at risk,” Bjork said. “This is something that is really concerning and we can do something about it.” Stericycle, a waste-incineration corporation, regulates the burning of medical waste and Bjork said new Environmental Protection Agency regulations set to go into effect in 2014 should be implemented by 2012.

Bjork explained the health ramifications of the medical waste incinerator in Graham County. Bjork said she has lived in Elon for 14 years and is afraid of the impact of the toxins on her children’s health.

Bjork said new EPA regulations set to go into effect in 2014 should be implemented by 2012. This wouldn’t be an option for another two to four years unless Leaders of North Carolina municipalities and counties vote otherwise.

According to statistics, Stericycle has only spent $2 million in 11 years on their local facilities. “They are pushing off the costs as long as possible,” Bjork said. She is part of a local group called the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League that is worried about the amount of toxins being pumped into the air by the incinerators, Bjork said. N.C. is known as the medical waste-incinerating capital of the world. “Only 2-3 percent of the waste needs to be burned,” she said. This means that up to 98 percent of the waste doesn’t have to be burned and she said it is pumping copious amounts of hazardous toxins, such as mercury, into the air. She said changing to the new standards could reduce the amount of toxins by 93-98 percent.

The Board of Aldermen were specifically interesting in how the other boards voted on this issue and why they voted the way they did.  “I would think the record of Graham’s meeting would be helpful,” Ron Klepcyk, a board member, said. “It would help us to understand the reasons they voted against it.”

“I have a problem with trumping Graham,” Mayor Jerry Tolley said. “The facility is in their jurisdiction.”

Bjork was adamant in her opinion. “Waiting two more years is not acceptable in this case,” she said. She asked the board to pass a resolution to support the implementation of the new stands in 2012. Board members said they will take it under consideration.

When the meeting ended the board offered their opinions of Bjork’s presentation. “It was a great presentation,” Tolley said. “She’s very passionate.” Tolley expressed his concern that the board in Graham didn’t adopt the resolution even though an incineration facility is located there. Tolley said to watch the paper because the facilities are in Graham’s town and it be known whether or not there are good reasons.

Angela Greene also presented the Board of Aldermen with the Green Challenge Award for the towns’ plan sustainable energy.

Topics that will be voted on Tuesday Oct. 12 include:

  • Acceptance of payment of town bills by VISA or Mastercard
  • Requiring account holders for the water and sewer to pay deposits

For more information about the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League’s petition to adopt stricter regulation of medical waste incineration by 2012 visit its website:



  1. I’m not blessed to live in NC but I do get Google Alerts about waste management and especially incineration; which is how I came across Caitlin’s article.

    ‘Old school’ ideas of incineration and current combustion technology are as far apart as cave drawings and an iPad. There is absolutely NO need to have toxins from incinerating medical waste floating through your communities. Heck you could be burning tires at the same time and still have virtually zero emissions. And please – the answer is NOT to bury the waste! You’d just contaminate the ground as well as the air. So Ms Bjork should absolutely be on the war path even if she lived hundreds of miles away. Toxins don’t stop at county lines!

    I have a small part to play in a patented waste management technology called “Air Curtain” that can turn 10 tons of waste into sterile ash in an hour. There’s a special high-tech lid that prevents toxins from being released. Not only that but this device can also use the heat to generate significant electricity. Several states and provinces have wisely banned open incineration while at the same time authorizing the use of Air Curtain technology because it is so safe and effective. That includes California and there are no higher standards anywhere.

    It sounds like there are waste management challenges in your community (as there are everywhere) and there are very economical and environmentally safe options for you. Of course I’d be happy to talk to anyone about this ( but the main reason for responding to Caitlin’s piece is to encourage you folks to not settle for anything less than a perfect solution to these critical issues. For everyone’s sake. Fight on Ms Bjork!

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