Hauling contaminated soil around the country was dumb, but its disposal in Utah presented no problem, said Utah's environmental health director.
The train hauling 32 boxcars of soil arrived Thursday morning in the western Utah desert after being dogged by protesters and rejected at eastern landfills.Environmentalists held a news conference at the State Capitol 85 miles east of here in Salt Lake City; then about 10 activists held a protest near where the train was unloaded. There were no incidents.
Workmen clad in white chemical-resistant clothing and respirators used heavy equipment to unload the soil into dump trucks. The trucks transported it to U.S. Pollution Control's 640-acre Grassy Mountain hazardous waste landfill 14 miles north of the rail spur.
The 2,400 tons of dirt was scooped from the ground after being tainted with acrylic acid in a 1989 train fire in Freeland, Mich.
Acrylic acid is used in such products as dentures, contact lenses and auto paints. It is a hazardous chemical, but not in the amount present in the soil, U.S. Pollution Control Inc. spokesman Joe LaSala said.
Ken Alkema, director of the Utah Division of Environmental Health, said tests proved the soil was "not even a hazardous waste, just a solid waste.
"It's kind of dumb that it had to come out here. It could have been disposed of safely in Michigan," he said. "These materials can be managed in such a way as not to foster public hysteria."
Greenpeace said the train was a symbol of the dangers associated with interstate transportation of hazardous materials.
"It's horrible that it's our job to chase this train through the communities," said Fred Munson of the New York office of Greenpeace.
"It's not the most toxic train," said Greenpeace's Shannon Fagan, but "this is one train that we know about."
Environmentalists, some of whom chained themselves to the tracks on the way to Utah, contended the soil should have been detoxified in Michigan, a more costly process than burial in a landfill.
U.S. Pollution Control Inc., a subsidiary of Union Pacific, disposed of 500,000 tons of hazardous wastes from throughout the country in 1990.
The soil was cleared by health officials from Michigan and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, even though it was turned away at dump sites in at least three other states.
The train traveled through Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, leaving the latter for Utah late last weekend.
Utah Governor Norm Bangerter didn't object to the disposal in Utah but criticized Congress for failing to give states greater control over such wastes.
In a letter Wednesday to a state House subcommittee, Bangerter said he feared other states will continue to avoid dealing with their waste problems as long as it is easy to ship the waste elsewhere.
Alkema said federal law should be changed to allow states to charge higher fees for disposal of out-of-state wastes, which would provide Utah a way to regulate the amount of waste shipped to it.