Although Kennecott denies that it is responsible for any of the hazardous lead contamination along Bingham Creek in southwest Salt Lake County, the company is offering to help with the emergency cleanup planned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Company officials say they will worry later about who pays what.

That is a refreshing attitude and Kennecott executives deserve to be commended for their sense of public responsibility and a willingness to eliminate the hazard as quickly as possible instead of letting it drag on for years while arguing over who caused the problem.While the EPA lists Kennecott as a "potentially responsible party," company officials say that the contamination came from some two dozen independent lead and zinc mines and mills that operated in Bingham Canyon from 1874 through 1930, dumping lead tailings into Bingham Creek. Kennecott has mined and milled only copper ores, never lead.

Kennecott has offered to remove the most heavily contaminated soil, both on and off Kennecott property. About three miles of the 11-mile Bingham Creek runs through Kennecott-owned land. The company and the EPA are working out details.

Most of the contamination is confined to the creek bed, but a former overflow area has since become the site of a residential neighborhood and the highest lead readings are found there. An EPA program to remove all topsoil up to 18 inches from around 50 or more homes, replacing it with "clean" dirt, and planting new sod, should be under way by June 1. Landscapers will work with each homeowner.

Kennecott's cleanup participation is not totally altruistic. Kennecott officials say they fully expect to recover much of the cleanup cost from companies that are descendants of the old lead mines and mills in the area. In addition, going ahead now - even on non-Kennecott property - eventually will save time and money for everyone.

But the first order of business is to ensure the safety of people living along Bingham Creek, remove the lead-contaminated soil problem, get the job done quickly and worry about any recovery of costs later.

That kind of attitude certainly qualifies Kennecott as a good neighbor in this case and is a "win-win" situation for everyone involved.