Ongoing water sampling and investigations over the years have determined that a former dry cleaning operation at the Veterans Administration hospital led to groundwater contamination from a suspected cancer-causing chemical called tetrachloroethylene, or PCE.
The PCE plume has been a high priority target of water quality regulators in both Salt Lake City and at the state agency because of fears the contaminated groundwater could spread. The EPA designation will accelerate the cleanup of the site and happened at the urging of city and state officials.
Addressing the challenges of nutrient pollution, too, rose to a top priority as water quality regulators and waste treatment plant operators grapple with looming mandates to keep Utah's waterways as pristine as possible.
A study commissioned by the state showed as much as $2.4 billion is spent each year recreating on Utah lakes and streams. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus, however, threaten those waterways and pose a billion dollar problem to remedy. The department worked on strategies to combat the excess "nutrient load," which would result in a $3.47 a month extra charge to each household that is still under consideration.
In 2013, environmental regulators through the hazardous waste division also continued their role in the closure operations of Tooele's chemical depot, which once housed the nation's largest stockpile of chemical weapons.
The last of the mustard gas and nerve agent was eliminated in January of 2012, but 2.6 million pounds of secondary waste had to be destroyed. The Deseret Chemical Depot officially closed last July, with state officials monitoring, and 19,000 acres were transferred to the Tooele Army Depot.
A year ago, in the midst of the persistent January inversion, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert with much less public fanfare dedicated the month to raising the awareness of radon exposure among residents.
A naturally occurring gas, radon occurs in an estimated 35 percent of Utah households at levels in which the EPA recommends it should be eradicated. Nationally, it caused 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year. In 2013, the department's public outreach program was involved in 7,418 tests and in the mitigation of 1,256 instances where radon was detected.
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