U.S. District Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins has approved a consent decree in which three companies will pay as much as $60 million to clean up Midvale's Sharon Steel environmental mess.

On Tuesday, Jenkins approved settlements involving the Environmental Protection Agency and potentially responsible parties, UV Industries Inc. Liquidating Trust, Atlantic Richfield Co. and Sharon Steel.Sharon Steel agreed to pay either $22 million cash or a mixed settlement of cash and assets in bankruptcy court amounting to $82 million in claims. UV's payment could be between $11 million and $18 million. ARCO agreed to pay $21 million.

UV once owned and operated the milling facility and smelter, Sharon Steel obtained the property in hopes of reprocessing material left by UV, and ARCO was sued because it allegedly contributed to the material on the site.

According to a docket entry in U.S. District Court, Jenkins ordered that in approving the payments, he was not endorsing any particular remedial action with respect to either the tailings pile or the nearby Midvale slag heap.

For decades, dust contaminated with arsenic and lead has blown from the defunct steel mill's tailings piles, which now amount to 14 million cubic yards of dust. The hazard is serious enough that the EPA proposes digging up soil from yards, in some cases as far as 18 inches below the surface.

The soil would be stored at the mill site until its ultimate disposal could be decided. Meanwhile, lawns will be replaced with clean soil.

EPA planners have proposed that the tailings and soil should be capped on site at the steel mill. The cap of clay, soil and vegetation is supposed to protect the tailings from moisture so they won't be carried deeper, into the underground water supplies.