To the editor:

The Salt Lake County Commission would like to state its position on the Sharon Steel-Midvale tailings cleanup. (The Environmental Protection Agency this month repeated its earlier preference for capping the tailings.)The report addressing the groundwater investigation suggests that the upper sand-and-gravel aquifer has been contaminated with heavy metals beneath the tailings.

The study also indicates that there are areas where no confining clay layer exists; therefore, heavy metals can migrate directly into the deep aquifer. The protection of this aquifer, an important drinking water source for our residents, is a must regardless of cost.

At a very minimum, contact between the tailings, leachate from the tailings and the aquifer must be totally eliminated. We, therefore, cannot accept a capping alternative as a permanent solution since it is not permanent and does not isolate the tailings from the aquifer.

Whatever the remedy selection, the solution must be permanent and not require institutional controls that restrict land use or the need to revisit the site in years hence.

While total removal of the tailings material out of our populous county is the best alternative, we recognize it is extremely costly. We understand that there are other alternatives that have merit.

Several private companies have proposed processing the tailings, and we understand that the Bureau of Mines has developed a processing method that would reduce the toxic metals to acceptable levels. We also understand the cost of this alternative is much lower than the alternative of total removal.

We strongly urge the agency to study the merits of this alternative. If reprocessing is the chosen alternative, it must result in unrestricted development on the tailings.

A year ago, EPA delayed decisions on the feasibility study to investigate the groundwater issue, which had not been fully addressed. We now request a further delay to investigate the feasibility of reprocessing the tailings.

D. Michael Stewart, Chairman

Salt Lake County Commission