Geneva Steel President Joe Cannon blasted the Utah County Clean Air Coalition Wednesday for spreading what he called misinformation about health effects of air pollution in Utah County.

Cannon charged the coalition with attempting to polarize the community over the issue of air quality. In the process, the coalition is unfairly characterizing Utah County as an unhealthy place to live, he said."I take the environment seriously. That's the reason Geneva is spending nearly $100 million on the environment," Cannon said. "When you get studies and misinformation that polarize the community you begin tearing away at that fabric that led us to the position we're here with today - that is, where the community has pulled together and developed a workable state implementation plan."

The coalition's renewed efforts to spark fervor over air quality in Utah County comes at the same time the state implementation plan for reducing fine-particulate levels in the valley - the first such plan in the country - is working its way toward federal approval, Cannon said.

"Some people just resist the opportunity to declare victory," Cannon said.

Cannon spoke out at a luncheon at the Excelsior Hotel attended by approximately 600 business and community leaders. During the luncheon Cannon and Geneva Vice President Robert J. Grow gave a state-of-the-company report to the audience, whom Cannon referred to as "stakeholders" in Geneva's success.

After summarizing Geneva's business and modernization highlights, Cannon centered his remarks on a brochure recently published by the coalition and a study by University of Utah epidemiologist Victor Archer.

In the brochure, Cannon said the coalition used a bar graph to compare four years of fine particulate (PM10) emission levels to three years of hospital admission data for children at Utah County hospitals. The comparison indicated a correlation between PM10 levels, Geneva's operation and hospital admissions.

The coalition included PM10 data for the 1989-90 winter, during which the PM10 standard was exceeded 22 times, but did not use corresponding data on hospital admissions for that year, although that data was available.

"Why would that be?" Cannon said. "If you included the fourth year of data you would see that hospital admissions were actually lower than when the plant was shut down altogether.

"There doesn't appear to be anywhere near the correlation, in our judgment, between hospital admissions and PM10 data," Cannon said.

Regarding Archer's study, which correlates increases in lung cancer deaths in Utah County since the 1950s to the operation of the steel mill, Cannon cited several other scientific studies that found no such correlation. He also pointed out that data from the Utah Cancer Registry shows Utah County's lung cancer rate is fifth lowest in the state and among the lowest in the nation.

To say that "Utah County is one of the leading places in the state to get cancer is simply not true," Cannon said.

"We don't want a polarized community," Cannon said. "We want our community to understand what the realities are here, what we're trying to do to deal with those realities, and we feel like we can hold our heads up and say what we're doing is helpful both for the environmental quality and overall quality of Utah."

In a press conference after the luncheon, Cannon said he is "perplexed" by the coalition's renewed antagonism. He said Geneva is not saying air pollution is "not bad for you."

"We're saying it is a problem. That's why we're spending 100-odd-million bucks to work on the problem," Cannon said.

But Geneva alone can't solve the valley's air-pollution problems. What's needed, Cannon said, is the same communitywide cooperative effort that led to development of the PM10 control plan.