Critics blaming Geneva Steel for poor air quality in Utah County appear only slightly mollified by the company's announcement Thursday that it will spend $5 million to reduce particulate emissions.
Geneva supporters and critics turned out by the hundreds Friday at a town meeting on air quality held by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah. The crowd overflowed the 200-seat Provo City Council chambers, with hundreds left standing in corridors.While Nielson told the environmentalists, steel workers and public officials he would hear comment on four air quality concerns, including acid rain, the primary topic of discussion was the Orem steel mill and its emissions.
Geneva officials Thursday announced plans to build a $5 million water- treatment facility to improve water and air quality. The new facility will allow Geneva to use clean water to cool hot slag, rather than byproduct water from the plant's coke-oven operation.
The company hopes the new process will significantly reduce particulate emissions in that operation of the steel plant.
But Geneva critics appear unsatisfied. While they applauded the treatment facility as a step in the right direction, they demanded Geneva officials do more and work faster to reduce air pollution.
Following the pattern of similar public meetings, Geneva employees and managers called upon the entire community to help them work toward cleaner air.
But clean-air activists continued to blame the steel plant for poor air quality, health problems and putting the brakes on local economic growth. A statement by Nielson urging everyone to recognize both sides - environmental and economic - of the issue didn't seem to have much effect.
The congressman pointed out that for helping save Geneva he has been criticized by many pollution-conscious constituents who preferred to see the mill die under former owner USX Corp.
But he pointed out that industry usually takes the lead in cleaning up environmental problems, while communities typically are slower to take positive action.
"Geneva is complying with the standards now," Nielson told the crowd. "It's not Geneva's fault that it will take the entire county three years to come into compliance."
But Mary Slover, representing the Utah Valley Citizens for Clean Air, charged that poor air quality has caused premature deaths and higher cancer rates in Utah County.
"We can't discuss the issue in solely economic terms," she said. "Geneva has said it will comply with (respirable particulate emission) standards within 4 1/2 years. We can't wait that long. Geneva must do more."
Chip Miller, an environmental control worker at Geneva Steel, said he takes pride in his job helping keep the air cleaner for the whole community and for his own neighborhood. The current, local owners of the plant are much more conscientious about environmental concerns than was USX.
"This is a new ball game with some of the same players but a new company," he said. "Don't judge us on the past, but on what we're doing now and what we can do in the future."