The federal government itself caused arsenic pollution to billow into the air from the Sharon Steel smelter in Midvale, a lawyer for Atlantic Richfield Co. charged Tuesday.

Daniel M. Allred, lawyer for ARCO, made the allegation in opening arguments of a lengthy trial in a suit filed by the government to force ARCO into helping clean up Sharon Steel's contaminated mill tailings in that city. U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins is trying the case without a jury.Later Tuesday, Jenkins toured the site with lawyers for both sides. The mill operated from 1906 to 1971. ARCO was involved for the last 13 years of that.

The government and the defendant disputed the danger of the lead, arsenic and cadmium pollution in the tailings on site and in the soil of residential areas of Midvale where the dust-like tailings were carried by the wind.

Allred said arsenic pollution that settled to the ground from the government project "greatly exceeded" arsenic from the tailings, he charged.

The government had arsenic refined in the smelter during the 1940s, and smoke with the poison in it wafted from the stack throughout the day. On the other hand, the tailings were only scattered when a heavy wind blew, he said.

"If the Atlantic Richfield Co. is liable for arsenic exposure in Midvale, so is the United States, and ARCO is entitled to a contribution" toward clean-up costs. However, he contends ARCO isn't liable.

In a Deseret News interview, he said the government decided more arsenic was needed during the '40s. He speculated that this was part of the World War II effort. Arsenic production was separate from Sharon's steelmaking.

Arsenic-laced ore from a mine in western Utah was hauled in to the smelter, with arsenic produced as a product. Some went up the company's smokestack.

Arsenic, lead and cadmium in the tailings were a byproduct of the steel mill operations. He estimated that ARCO contributed only 8 percent of the tailings and of the total amount of lead - the major contaminant - only 4 percent.

W. Benjamin Fisherow of the U.S. Department of Justice opened his argument by saying this isn't a personal injury case. "What we will prove is that these tailings pose a risk or may pose a risk to people who come onto them," or to the drinking water aquifer, or people who live nearby in Midvale.

"ARCO's tailings, along with other tailings from the site, have caused and are causing elevated blood levels in children who live in Midvale."

A study by the defendants detected up to 8 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in children who live in Midvale. One in eight children has levels of 10 micrograms, which could give rise to concern, he said.

Allred shot back, `Lead is a product of civilization. In every city there is lead in the soils."

The average level in the blood of Salt Lake City residents is 16.7, three times the Midvale level.