Heavy metals in the Kennecott tailings pond pose a threat to Magna residents during dust storms, concludes an Environmental Protection Agency report.
But state health officials think other areas in Salt Lake County may be more worrisome.A report on the EPA study was presented to the Utah Air Quality Committee Thursday afternoon. It was conducted by Dr. Suzanne Wuerthele, regional toxicologist for the EPA, Denver.
Before Kennecott installed its new sprinkler system that has kept dust from blowing badly from the gigantic tailings pond, state officials took soil samples and analyzed them for heavy metals and silica.
"Our analyses showed that the amount of metals in the tailings is extremely small," said Burnell Cordner, director of the Utah Bureau of Air Quality. The EPA made a literature search of possible dangers from heavy metals and listed potential health effects from exposure.
"Part of her suggestions are that you take proper precautions when there is blowing dust," Cordner said. "It's the same sort of thing we've been saying all along."
She suggests that residents protect themselves and wash themselves after being in a dust storm from the Magna tailings.
As far as dust in Magna is concerned, he said, "My personal impression is that it's probably not much different than it is anywhere else in the county.
"We've had mill tailings and processing in the county for years. For instance, the concentrations (at Magna) are nowhere near what they are at Sharon Steel."
The EPA is working to clean up the tailings at the Sharon Steel site.
In the past, the Magna tailings pile allowed dust to blow off in such quantities that they violated both particulate and fine particulate standards, he said. This hasn't happened since about April, before the sprinkling system was installed.
"We've always said we exceed those standards, and that's a serious health concern," he said.
State experts prepared a booklet advising residents about what to do in case of a dust storm, such as wear a face mask or a scarf.