Tailings from the Sharon Steel Mill in Midvale, which has been idle since 1971, may pose a danger to human health and the environment, says the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to an EPA fact sheet released Friday, the 260-acre mill site at 7800 S. State was used from 1905 until 1971. It is bordered by Main Street on the east and by the Jordan River on the west and south.Two small drainage ditches, the North Jordan Canal and the Galena Canal, are in the vicinity.

State officials became concerned about the mill in June 1982, when they learned nearby residents were gathering tailings from along 78th South to use in gardens and children's sandboxes. The state sampled the tailings they had gathered and found high levels of lead, which is a hazardous waste.

Tests of windblown tailings dust from along the highway showed arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, zinc and chromium at levels that were higher than natural concentrations. The owners of the mill site, Sharon Steel Corp., built a fence along 78th South to prevent public access.

A study in 1983 found high levels of these contaminants in the tailings and actual or potential contamination of soil, air and groundwater nearby.

After the site was put on the Superfund cleanup list in October 1984, the U.S. Geological Survey found lead in groundwater beneath the site at levels above federal drinking water standards.

A new investigation was completed recently, intended to identify the extent of contamination and determine if current or future contamination might be a danger to health or the environment.

"EPA concluded that lead and arsenic contained in on-site tailings or windblown tailings dust may threaten human health if the tailings themselves or tailings dust are accidentally eaten," says the report.

"EPA also concluded that humans may be exposed to contaminants by eating vegetables grown directly on the tailings or in contaminated soil. Children especially are at risk because they are more likely than adults to eat dirt that may be contaminated."

The study said zinc in wetland surface water might harm animals.

Concerned residents should:

- Thoroughly clean young children's hands periodically during the day. Children 6 months old to 6 years old tend to put their hands in their mouths more frequently.

- Thoroughly wash all garden fruit and vegetables.

- Thoroughly dust and vacuum the interior of the house regularly.

Sharon Steel recently agreed to put a polymer coating on part of the tailings. Once this happens, a thin crust will form and help prevent tailings dust from blowing off the site.

Also, EPA is considering several options in a cleanup plan.

For additional information, call Jim Martin or Wendy Olson Martin of the Utah Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste, 538-6170.