My View: Kennecott deserves a closer look

By Terry Marasco

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Kennecott mine in Bingham Canyon, Utah, 2003.

Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Kennecott's campaign asking the public to "take a closer look" deserves such. They provide some air quality numbers which are derived from the Utah Division of Air Quality. Certain air quality numbers deserve more scrutiny and must be put into context. Additionally, we need to take a closer look at all major emitters in the many ways they emit pollutants into the air, in our soils and into ground and our waters.

Kennecott's site focuses on six air pollutants (carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds — or VOCs — and particulate matter measuring 2.5 and 10 microns). But we must take a closer look at the mine's total impacts.

Other considerations are dangerous pollutants called HAPs (hazardous air pollutants), and the past, current and future impacts of all operations on water. A closer look reveals an operation that profoundly impacts Salt Lake County, the valley and the Great Salt Lake above, on and below ground.

For example, Kennecott dominates all large emitters in Salt Lake County (48 percent of carbon monoxide, 77 percent of nitrous oxide, 79 percent of sulfur dioxide, 23 percent of VOCs, 72 percent of PM10, and 66 percent of PM2.5. If you take a close look at its emissions compared to all emitters in Salt Lake County, it dominates in PM2.5 (24 percent), PM10 (18 percent), sulfur dioxide (65 percent), nitrous oxide (24 percent) all in the face of 1 million folks in the Salt Lake Valley. This dominance is lost when Kennecott states the 6 percent for all counties.

A closer look at their conversion from coal to gas leaves out an important factor: yes, they do not burn coal for the four inversion winter months, but they will be burning gas in the winter with the net effect of emitting more pollutants during our worst air quality season.

Not discussed by Kennecott is its dominance in the entire state of HAPs which are particularly onerous and hardly discussed by the Utah Division of Air Quality, or UTDAQ. HAPs also contribute to the formation of PM2.5 (the pollutant currently considered in the State Implementation Plan) and are enormously toxic. Unfortunately, the standards are "technology-based," meaning that they represent the best available control technology an industrial sector could afford and not health based. Even the EPA is weak here.

We cannot evaluate or even grasp the total effect of the operations without considering the large depreciation on surface soils and surface and ground waters all the way to the Great Salt Lake from historic, current and expanding operations.

Kennecott's waste rock dumps and tailings ponds, thousands of acres in size and expanding by 33 percent, are exposed to rain which causes chemical reactions in the soils producing acid laden water flowing into soils and aquifers. The magnitude of the mine's impacts only from the waste rock dumps surrounding the pit is substantial: "The ground water in this area flows from the mountain recharge areas to the Jordan River … the point of discharge and exposure point to aquatic organisms living in the river. The Jordan River near the affected area is classified as a cold-water fishery. The discharge of treatment brines is a potential problem for the Great Salt Lake ecology. The contaminated ground water underlies a 72 square mile area. The core of the acid plume is about 2 square miles in size" (from the 2001 EPA KUC Superfund Record of Decision).

Mines, refineries and power plants must be viewed in terms of their entire impact on the air, the soils and surface and ground waters. The permitting process at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which includes the UTDAQ as well as the EPA, allows micromanagement of permits, piece by piece, as if the large picture puzzle was scattered so that the public can see only the pieces, not the big picture.

Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature need to take a closer look at the management and reporting of toxics in Utah and need to provide the citizenry with the big picture. This requires the publication of all air, soil and water impacts of each operation. Of course Kennecott can provide a closer look by stating the total impacts of its current and pending operations for all to see.

Terry Marasco is the communications coordinator for the Utah Clean Air Alliance.

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