A spokesman for the Utah County Clean Air Coalition said charges his group purposely twisted information in a brochure it recently published are "absurd."
Coalition co-chairman Sam Rushforth, a professor of botany at Brigham Young University, also defended a study by University of Utah epidemiologist Victor Archer, saying its conclusions are sound.And Rushforth had little praise for the state implementation plan for reducing fine-particulate (PM10) emission levels in the county. Rushforth was a member of the citizens committee that helped draft the plan.
The state-approved plan is now winding its way toward federal approval.
Rushforth said coalition members "don't think the plan will work" and that even if it does, it "doesn't protect our health."
That's because the plan is aimed at reducing emission levels to a point just below the maximum acceptable level (150 micrograms) for the pollutant. According to Rushforth, recent studies show PM10 causes health problems at that level.
So what is it going to take to clean up the valley's air? Moving Geneva's coke ovens, Rushforth said.
"The Clean Air Coalition has been pushing for Geneva to quit coking in the valley for some time," he said. "We would like to see the coke ovens reconstructed in a non-populated area . . . coking should not occur in these closed mountain valleys."
An alternative to relocating the ovens is for Geneva to stop producing coke altogether and to purchase it from another source, Rushforth said.
James Young, director of corporate communication at Geneva, said moving the coke ovens isn't an option at the present.
"We have anywhere from 10 to 15 years of operation left in our current coke-making facility, and we intend to operate the facilities we have here and meet every regulation, including those that were just promulgated in the new clean-air bill," Young said. "In time we will have to look at building new facilities, including moving the coke ovens to another area or looking at the cokeless form of steelmaking now being tested in South Africa."
In a meeting last week, the coalition received comments from supporters that it should be doing more to fight for clean air, Rushforth said. Among actions suggested for the coalition to pursue: placing messages about the valley's air on billboards around the county, writing to the International Olympic Committee to warn them of the effect the valley's polluted air could have on athletes and seeking legal action against Geneva.
"We think we would be irresponsible if we didn't push ahead harder," Rushforth said. He said the coalition is investigating all political, legal and public education avenues available to get the valley's air cleaned up.
"We think the clean-air coalition has been very conservative in our approach, especially in light of the health effects we see in the valley,"