Marlene Norcross loves her garden.
A week ago the Magna resident went outside to work in it after one of those windstorms when fine, dry Kennecott tailings fill the air."The flowers," she says, "were just literally plastered with tailings. So I got a long box, cut some flowers, and put them in there." She went to the post office and had them delivered to a vice president of Kennecott.
"I put a not in there that said, `Compliments of my garden and your tailings pond."'
Mrs. Norcross doesn't only feel terrible frustration from the Kennecott dust storms. She has chest pains "when we get a direct hit. That was a direct hit for us. We live directly east of the tailings pond (about half a mile away) and the wind was directly east that day."
A year or two ago she was working in her garden when the tailings got to blowing so heavily that "I had to get down so low I was almost crawling to find my way back to the house." Only from down there could she see the brick path.
Montie Keller, manager of the compliance and engineering sections, Utah Bureau of Air Quality, says Kennecott's tailings are a health hazard because they're so tiny the dust can lodge in the lungs. Health standards were violated this spring, he said.
But Keller says that Kennecott will have a new tailings-distribution system installed on its 50,000-acre pile by the end of July. The huge pipes will be able to pump wet tailings wherever the pond is starting to dry out, keeping the dust to a minimum. He's convinced this will largely solve the problem.
"There's going to be some tailings blowing around as long as they're tailings out there," Keller said. "But we think it'll be much, much less than we've had in the past."
Jim Meeks, a paramedic at the Magna Fire Station, is moving his family away from the town at the end of this month. "I've battled for six years and I'm done," he said.
"The disheartening thing is you spend all your time cleaning the house, then you go away. And then when you come back, everything is covered with tailings inside."
His home is only five years old, with thermal pane windows and weatherstripping, features that you might think would keep out the tailings. But they don't.
"The dust that blows is the consistency of talcum powder," Meeks said.
Many Magna residents have problems with asthma aggravation, he said. The dust lodges in the lungs, causing scar tissue that reduces the lungs' elasticity. This harms the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen.
The Meeks' three-year-old son, Coleton, was tested at Primary Children's Hospital, Salt Lake City. "He does have a respiratory deficiency," Meeks said.
The boy "gets sick every time there's a tailings storm - I mean with fever and ear aches and ear infections," he said. "The big concern we have is with long-term exposure."
Meeks said state officials have refused to test the tailings and perform medical studies, because of the cost. He had the tailings tested last month by an EPA-certified laboratory, at a cost of $60, and found out they were 46 percent silica.
Also, they contain "lead, copper, arsenic, cadmium," he said.
Meeks said 55 homes in his subdivision are vacant, many of them because of the tailings. "We're not selling the house because we don't think anybody would want to live there - we're giving it back to the bank."
The Meeks have tried to sell, without success. He's willing to give it away, to anyone who will assume the payments.
Keller said the state has tested the tailings, and the real problem is with their fineness, not their composition. The new tailings distribution system should be able to put 70 percent of the wet tailings on the edge of the pond where it's needed, instead of the present 15 percent.
With 40,000 gallons of tailings going on every minute, that's a lot of moisture.
Temporary dikes put up on the pond to keep parts wet when Kennecott was shut down actually prevented a good distribution now that the company is back in business. Around the end of March, Kennecott was cited for letting too much area dry out.
The copper-maker is pushing diligently to install the new pipes, he said. "I think they have somewhere between 30 and 50 workers working entirely on that now," he said.
Mrs. Norcross wants to believe the new system will finally clear the air.
"I'd like to be optimistic one more time," she said.