My View: Wow, Utah is in the Top 4

By Terry Marasco

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - This Jan. 4, 2013, file photo, shows the haze from an inversion hanging over downtown Salt Lake City.

Rick Bowmer, AP

Enlarge photo»

Utah ranks No. 4 out of 56 states and territories of toxic releases and transfers in ponds of pollutants. According to the recent release of "The Toxic 100 Air Polluters: Fifth Edition," of the top 100 toxic companies nationally, 25 have facilities in Utah (Political Economy Research Institute (PERI)). Stericycle is the tip of the iceberg. The PERI report ranks corporations based on the air pollutants they release, the toxicity of releases posing health risks and the number of people exposed. It also provides additional confirmation of how toxic Utah is with “toxic scores,” and includes the proportion of the health risks borne by the poor (living below poverty level) and minorities (non-Caucasian including Hispanics) making it possible to compare corporations in terms of health and pollution impacts. The largest polluters nationally and in Utah are impacting the poor and minorities disproportionately. For example, minorities bear 54 percent of the pollution burden from Honeywell in Salt Lake City.

PERI uses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) which reports the weight (in pounds) of approximately 650 toxic chemicals released into the environment by major industrial facilities. This new gauge of toxicity takes into account the degree of toxicity of one or more of the chemicals released, and the health impacts of the population downwind of the facility as determined by the prevailing winds.

Utah’s toxic atmosphere is worse than this report. The inventory does not include the 6 criteria air pollutants that we now know causes the Salt Lake Valley to have the worst air in the country on far too many days, and the year round ozone problems. The report also does not include tailings from the mines that either affect the air or water when pollutants leach into groundwater.

The Utah Department of Health Small Area Data appears to correlate with the PERI health risk report. It states that cases of adult asthma, cancer deaths, breast cancer deaths, colorectal cancer deaths, coronary heart disease deaths, deaths from diabetes, fair or poor health, poor health status (adults reported their health was not good in the past 30 days), infant mortality, low birth weight, lung cancer deaths have the highest rates of health issues in the state in one or more towns areas such as Magna, Midvale, Farmington, South Jordan, Sandy, Riverton/Draper, Kearns, Clearfield/Hill AFB, Brigham City, Box Elder County areas, Provo, Glendale, Rose Park, Ogden, West Valley, Woods Cross, North and South West Jordan, Midvale, Downtown Salt Lake and the Avenues; specifically, Taylorsville, Centerville, all are in the shroud of highly toxic facilities. Many of these communities have a high proportion of poor and minorities. These operations affect the poor and minorities more: GS Foundries (Ogden), Tesoro, Chevron, Owens Corning (Salt Lake City), ATK (Magna), and BD Medical (Sandy).

On Aug. 12, new fish consumption advisories (fish containing elevated mercury) were added for largemouth bass in Washington and San Pete Counties. In my research, I could not find a Utah county without a mercury fish advisory. Mercury is a common pollutant from coal-fired power plants.

Two of the top 9 most toxic companies in the nation are doing business here — Renco (US Magnesium) and Precision Cast Parts (GS Foundry, Ogden). While Kennecott, ATK, and refinery operations have high toxic scores, the report points at US Magnesium in Rowley as one of the most toxic facilities in the country.

Utah and many western states are treated as wastelands. Many western governors welcome these polluters with open arms and sell these polluters to the public under the guise of jobs while those that work at these facilities, their families and the surrounding areas are barraged with pollution. I believe health trumps jobs.

Terry Marasco is the interim director of Utah Moms for Clean Air and a member of the Utah Clean Air Alliance.

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