Zero Population Growth is wrong in rating Salt Lake City's natural environment as poor, according to experts in three of the four areas rated.

ZPG, based in Washington, D.C., surveyed all 192 American cities with populations of 100,000 or greater. Each was evaluated on 11 factors, four of them concerning a healthy environment: air quality, hazardous waste, the quality and availability of water and sewage disposal.Salt Lake City scored a dismal 4.75, according to ZPG. Only Phoenix, Ariz., with a 5, the lowest possible rating, had a worse environment, the group says.

ZPG touts the study as showing that overpopulation is a problem in such places as Salt Lake City. It sells the report on its "Urban Stress Test" for $4.95 each.

But when ZPG's own criteria are checked with the experts, it's ZPG that flunks the test, not Salt Lake City.

Air quality

Salt Lake City's air was given a 4 rating, the only one of the four environmental factors that did not receive the rock-bottom 5.

That 4 means the city is "in the danger category," said Dianne Sherman, spokeswoman for ZPG. She said the test was based on whether a city's atmosphere met primary and secondary Environmental Protection Agency standards for the pollutants carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, lead and total suspended solids.

The rating shows Salt Lake city did not meet the standards on at least four of the pollutants.

Burnell Cordner, director of the Utah Bureau of Air Quality, says the only pollutants for which Salt Lake City exceeds federal standards are ozone and carbon monoxide. That's two, not four, pollutants.

Magna and North Salt Lake recorded violations of a new fine particulates standard. But they are not in the city.

Years ago, sulfur dioxide was a problem. But with new pollution controls at Kennecott, the violations ended.

Hazardous waste

"Ratings are based on the number of Superfund sites listed by EPA for city or county and, in addition, the number of potentially hazardous waste sites under EPA investigation," said Sherman.

Cities got nailed with a 5 if they had four or more sites within their boundaries that are being cleaned up under the EPA's Superfund program. Also, the rating would be given if a city in the county in which it is located had seven or more sites.

Leaving aside obvious questions about the fairness of rating a city based on what happened in a county outside the city, it seems this one is justified.

"We've got a number of sites on the . . . EPA's Superfund master list," said Brent Bradford, director of the Utah Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste. They are among 180 sites statewide that are being investigated for possible cleanup action.

Hazardous waste sites in Salt Lake City include Wasatch Chemical, Petro Chem, several landfills and the American Barrel site. In nearby Midvale, there's the Sharon Steel cleanup.

Water quality and availability

"Your water resources are considered to be in danger," Sherman said. "The resources are already drying up and contain pollutants. The source for this information, by the way, is (the) U.S. Geological Survey . . .

"We assessed the availability and quality of ground and surface water. Information on the status on renewable water supplies is not available."

Susan Weber, director of ZPG, said, "There were no actual figures on water. Our water ratings were based on U.S. Geological Survey National Water Summary, 1983."

Asked what the summary says, she replied, "There are three different documents which I am sure you can find in your local library. However, they're highly technical."

Asked for specific points, she said, "Insufficient surface water," and added that there were problems with sewage and pollutants in the water.

There seems to be a problem with flooding, she said. "Water quality - there's sewage and industrial waste, and there's turbidity and there are metals. There are hazardous wastes in public supply aquifer."

When the Deseret News questioned that contention, she replied, "If you don't trust the public documents, that's your problem, not mine. If you think the water is fine, drink it at will."

Salt Lake City's public utilities director, LeRoy W. Hooton Jr. said the city has the highest quality drinking water anywhere, relying on clean watersheds high in the canyon.

Look at people who draw drinking water from the contaminated Mississippi, he said. "There's no comparison. No comparison. There's no industrial waste or anything getting into these high canyon watersheds."

Ken Bousfield, manager of the compliance program for the Utah Bureau of Drinking Water Sanitation, said the state monitors more than 300 bacteriological analyses a month from Salt Lake City alone.

"Relative to the drinking water, it's tested at high frequencies," he said. "They have yet to violate a standard . . . I've got myriads of data to rely on. I've got the proof."

Sewer services

"Salt Lake City and the other cities that rated 5, they either do not provide at least secondary treatment for any wastewater, or discharge raw sewage," Sherman said.

"That is totally erroneous," Hooton said. "Salt Lake City has provided secondary treatment since 1965."

"We've just completed an over $30 million construction program to improve the plant's capacity and performance," he said.