If the Environmental Protection Agency carries out its plan to bury toxic tailings from Sharon Steel on site in Midvale, it will probably violate federal rules on protecting wetlands, a Salt Lake businessman says.
George Klinell, chairman of Utah Chemical Corp. - one of four companies that hope to win a contract to clean up the site - made the contention in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. District Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins and others.Utah Chemical Corp. wants to reprocess the wastes because impurities like lead and arsenic that make it dangerous are valuable for other uses. The tailings amount to about 14 million cubic yards.
In October, EPA officials proposed for the second time that the contaminated tailings be capped on the site of the former steel mill. The first time the agency made the proposal, there was an outcry from public officials who did not want the tailings to remain in Midvale.
The EPA's proposal is to cap the tailings with three feet of clay, soil and vegetation and to restrict future access.
Jenkins was involved because before any cleanup can start, he had to approve the EPA's settlement with two potentially responsible parties. The $60 million-plus agreements are supposed to finance the project.
Despite the letter, on Tuesday Jenkins approved the settlement.
Klinell wrote, "There is a likely legal impropriety in the EPA's capping decision, based on the recent case . . . of Ohio vs. the Interior Department."
The decision says special protection is required for wetland areas. The Midvale mill site has 26 acres of marsh and a stream bed that is covered with contaminants, Klinell added.
This "is a natural resource that is subject to the Department of Interior's jurisdiction when contaminated." The marsh was identified as a wetlands by the Salt Lake City-County Health Department, Bureau of Water Quality, he wrote.
"They've got capping on their minds and that's all they ever had on their minds," he charged, speaking of EPA officials.
Eventually, the cap will fail, he predicted. If precipitation gets under the cap, it might allow contaminants to wash down into the deep aquifer.
When that happens, "the financial burden will be significantly increased over present options of reprocessing or relocating the tailings via slurry."
He said the company disagrees with the EPA's estimated cost of removing the tailings, $400 million. Actually, the cost of a slurry pipeline should not be greater than the expected cost of capping - $35 million, he said.
Klinell said in an interview that the best solution is reprocessing the tailings to remove the impurities. Utah Chemical Corp. submitted a two-volume reprocessing plan, he added.
According to him, the plan will be analyzed by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in Washington, D.C.