Utah County's air pollution problem with Geneva Steel being a major contributor - has a direct relationship to increased respiratory illness in the area, according to a study done by a Brigham Young University professor, but Geneva Steel officials say the study is invalid.
Arden Pope, a professor of natural resource and environmental economics, said his study, which looks at the connection between respiratory illness and particulate emissions, shows that when particulate emission levels exceeded the health standard, hospital admissions for pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis and asthma more than doubled for children and significantly increased for adults.But Constance Lundberg, a BYU law professor and a member of Geneva's board of directors, said the study was done without using epidemio standards. There was no control group and Pope did not examine medical history.
Lundberg said she discussed the study with Pope when he first began in 1985 and asked him about his method of gathering information.
"The thing that is frustrating to me is that he did not use epidemio standards," she said. "He deliberately avoided doing it. He is not an epidemiologist. He is a range economist. That is like me trying to do a physics study."
Pope said his study isn't aimed at "Geneva bashing," but "if we don't deal with Geneva Steel, we are not dealing with the problem. Geneva, without question, is the largest contributor of particulate pollution."
Utah County has a serious air pollution problem, he said. Pope's study says that numerous times every year, particulate pollution is above the health base standards.
But Boyd Erickson, vice president of engineering and environment at Geneva, said the plant meets the EPA's newest regulation for respiratory health, the PM10 standard.
That standard is violated when more than 150 particles smaller than a micron are counted in a cubic meter of air during one day. A micron is a millionth of a meter. The standard includes an annual average and a 24-hour average.
Erickson said the annual average is being met every year and Geneva only exceeds the 24-hour average 10 to 14 times each year during inversion periods.
Last week was a prime example. During the winter's first inversion, Utah County exceeded the standard four times at the Lindon monitoring station, according to Burnell Cordner, director of the state Bureau of Air Quality.
Cordner said that during the winter of 1985-1986 the county violated the fine particulate standard 13 times. When Geneva was closed, there weren't any violations, but last winter the county violated the standard 10 times.
"You still can't say Geneva caused those 13 or 10 times. You can say with Geneva up, there was enough pollution in the air to cause a problem. Geneva contributes and so do stoves, cars, and sanding and salting roads."
Erickson said, "For the other 355 days of the year, we are not exceeding it. We've done a marvelous job meeting the ambient air quality standards."
On the other hand, Pope said his study shows that Geneva is violating standards quite frequently. "Geneva right now has become very involved in public relations and is trying to convince us otherwise."
He said when he first began the study, which covers the time from April 1985 to February 1988, there was evidence of a connection between respiratory illness and particulate emissions. He said he gathered his data by working with the medical community and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
His study, in print at the American Journal of Public Health, looks at violations of the PM10 standard because it is the legal indicator of particulate pollution and is expected to be the best indicator of health risk.
Pope said Geneva has not been in violation because it is not being required by any laws to meet the standard. The PM10 standard, a more stringent standard, became effective July 1987 and was to be implemented within nine months.
But the state has not developed an implementation plan and "the EPA has not done anything. It concerns me that our state has not acted. It's like having a speed limit with no cops to slow you down."
Cordner said that the state hasn't fully implemented the new standard because the Bureau of Air Quality only has one expert in the area and some measuring tools provided by the EPA haven't worked properly.
"Even the EPA never expected the states to do it in nine months," he said. "They have asked us if we wanted to change the schedule."
Cordner said his office monitors Geneva Steel as often as they can and when a violation occurs they are penalized and put on a compliance schedule.
He said the company fails its own emissions tests at other times than inversion periods, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily in violation of health standards.
Pope's study is the first attempt to protect the health and welfare of the citizens, he said.
"There is little evidence that Geneva is doing more than is required," he said. "In fact, there is evidence that they are doing less than required. They have violated health standards but strike agreements with the state where they don't admit their guilt. The violation is still a matter of record."
But Cordner said, "We have not seen an increase in the number of violations since Geneva took over. We generally see a cooperative spirit and a desire to improve the air."
The Bureau of Air Quality has already negotiated two settlement agreements with Geneva. "Obviously Geneva does not want to continue to pay these type of penalties."
Erickson said Geneva Steel's new owners spend $40 million a year to maintain $200 million of pollution control equipment. They are installing a $5 million water treatment plant, have upgraded electronics, rebuilt the open hearth and put the blast furnace in better shape than it has been in for 20 years. That results in less emission and improves combustion.
Lundberg said, "I'm an academic and it grieves me to see one of my colleagues behave in what I consider an irresponsible fashion. His results are completely inconsistent with the state's."
Pope said, "I have no animosity to the steel mill. I do get annoyed with the misinformation they put out with regards to air quality. I regret the campaign they have used to polarize the county. This is an issue of air pollution."