The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants to put U.S. Magnesium on a list that vaults cleanup of the company's active 4,525-acre site in Tooele County into a "high priority" category.
In a recent letter to Tooele County commissioners, EPA's Gwen Christiansen said her agency is proposing to put the company, formerly MagCorp, on the EPA's National Priorities List, which includes the country's most polluted sites commonly known as Superfund sites.
The proposal will be published in the Federal Register next month and a public notice will announce a 60-day public comment period.
"The goal of this proposal is to address contamination at and near the facility, not to stop magnesium production," wrote Christiansen, an EPA National Priorities List coordinator based in Denver.
The site, which has produced magnesium since 1972, is located in Rowley on the southwest side of the Great Salt Lake about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.
"EPA and UDEQ (Utah Department of Environmental Quality) have been concerned about releases from the site to the environment for more than 15 years," the EPA stated in a fact sheet. "Risk assessments show significant environmental and human health risks."
The EPA is worried about metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, chlorine gas and other contaminants. "These contaminants pose both cancerous and noncancerous health risks to both humans and wildlife and have been released into the air, soil, surface water and groundwater," the EPA stated. Waterfowl coming in contact with contaminated areas on the site have also been affected, according to the EPA.
U.S. Magnesium officials said in a statement of their own that the reference to waterfowl is "fictitious and an irresponsible representation." The company said no one with the EPA contacted U.S. Magnesium about the proposed listing prior to company officials receiving the EPA fact sheet.
In 2001 the company installed a chlorine-filtration system that dramatically reduced its emissions.
The company also cited in its defense a study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health of worker exposure to chemicals at the site.
"After examining a group of the most highly exposed workers, NIOSH concluded the blood levels of the relevant chemicals levels 'were lower than those associated with observable health problems,"' the company said Wednesday in its response. U.S. Magnesium officials further state that any model the EPA is using to justify putting the company on the list reflects a "flawed analysis of the environmental situation at the plant.""U.S. Magnesium is committed to improving the environment and over the years has made substantial strides toward improving the environment and reducing pollution," company officials stated. "U.S. Magnesium has always taken steps to address real problems and concerns."