Sevier County residents have given an emphatic "no" to a proposed asbestos dump site in their back yard, despite safety assurances from officials of the Great Basin Environmental Safety Corp. of Delta.

This was evident at an emotional public meeting attended by more than 400 county residents, mostly from the south Sevier area. Nearly three dozen people voiced strong objections to the dump, proposed for Poverty Flat about seven miles south of Monroe.One of the strongest opponents to the proposal is Dr. Robert E. Liechti, a Richfield cancer specialist. He said most people take pride in the quality of their drinking water but that it is "equally important that we care just as much for the quality and safety of the air we breathe."

Liechti said it has become evident that asbestos is easily inhaled and that the fine particulate matter becomes permanently incorporated into lung tissue. He notes it has caused some chronic lung diseases and repeated lung infections.

Other objections ranged from fear of an earthquake, which might let the materials escape, to water contamination.

The company's representatives countered that there are more hazardous materials than asbestos being "irresponsibly" placed in open landfills and that the asbestos would be handled in a completely "responsible manner."

Company officials promised they would conform to all federal, state and local environmental regulations. Citizens were told by Dan Perry, a partner in the firm, that asbestos is not required to be labeled as hazardous waste. But that statement only brought questions about why precautions are so necessary if the material is not dangerous.

Plans call for the asbestos waste to be buried in double-layered bags, the material to be mixed with water inside the bags.

Another Great Basin partner, Terry Hyde, said the company's first concern is safety. He added that proper procedures have been followed to this point and promised this would be continued in preparing, handling and burying the materials if the project becomes a reality.

A petition against the project was launched by Jeannine Baker after a public hearing on the proposal. The hearing was attended by only five people.

Petitioners claim an asbestos dump site would be a disaster waiting to happen, that Sevier Valley shouldn't be marred with wastes from other people, and that "We do not want to become the dump area for the nation."

Opposition to the dump resulted in an extension period for public comment about the project, granted by the state's Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste, a division of the Utah State Department. The bureau has the responsibility to deny or approve waste permits.

The corporation is also required to file an application with the Sevier County Planning Commission, which recommends action to the Sevier County Commission.