Companies can be forced to clean their own hazardous waste sites if the state will create a fund similar to the federal "superfund," according to state health officials.
Utah has approximately 150 hazardous waste sites and needs to set aside about $7.5 million if it wants to start getting rid of them, said Ken Alkema, director of the Environmental Health Division.A superfund could, among other things, speed the cleanup of the Sharon Steel plant in Midvale, he said.
Without the money, the state may wait years for federal officials to clean only 20 to 30 of the sites. That is all the federal government is likely to consider dangerous enough for assistance, he said.
Alkema and other officials met Monday with Gov. Norm Bangerter to urge support for the fund. The federal superfund was created in 1980 to clean waste sites. So far, 26,926 sites are on a list to be studied.
The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of cleaning sites on its list, Alkema said. The state needs a fund to pay the other 10 percent.
But the money also could be used as an incentive for companies to take care of their own waste problems.
The state can force companies to pay for cleaning up sites they have contaminated, Alkema said. Companies that refuse can be sued for three times the cost of cleaning.
Companies know the state will not carry out its threat to clean the sites as long as no money has been set aside.
"If they know the state has the money to do the cleanup, they (companies) will come forward to do it because it'll cost them less," said Brent Bradford, director of the Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste.
Bradford said developers are anxiously waiting for an area between West Jordan and Midvale to be cleaned. Once the site is clean, a road can be constructed between the cities.
"It's all being held up because of the federal superfund," Bradford said, noting the federal government takes an average of more than six years to begin cleaning.
Alkema said the Legislature's interim health committee is studying how to raise money for a superfund. Other states have used everything from fees to taxes.
"We'd like to spread funding over as broad a base as we can," Bradford said.
Bangerter urged the officials to continue studying the problem and to submit a recommendation in the 1989 budget.
Alkema said neighboring states, including Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Montana have created separate superfunds.