Lead-laden tailings from Midvale's Sharon Steel site that frequently blow into nearby neighborhoods are scheduled to be covered with an acrylic crust during the next three weeks.
Burnell Cordner, director of the Utah Bureau of Air Quality, said Friday that Sharon Steel has scheduled a contractor to begin applying the crusting agent to stabilize the sand-like tailings.A non-toxic mixture of acrylic polymer and wood chips will be sprayed onto 72 acres of tailings starting Tuesday and should be completed by May 20, Cordner said.
Tests conducted by the bureau in December showed high levels of lead were found in dust blown from the 260 acres of mine tailings into a residential area. The 10 million tons of tailings are located south of 78th South, between the Jordan River and south Main Street.
Adolescent medical and mental problems have been linked to prolonged lead exposure elsewhere. However, the government has never tested the children near the Midvale site for the lead poisoning.
"We are happy something is being done, but it is not a permanent fix," Cordner said.
The ultimate solution for the site must come from the Environmental Protection Agency, which has placed the site on the national priority list under the federal Superfund program. Eventually, the EPA is expected to develop a plan to clean up the site.
"There is a broad range of problems including water leaching. Their options for controlling the tailings include removing them, refining the tailings or encapsulating them in concrete," said Charles Theisen, a bureau environmental scientist.
After recently reviewing the air samples, EPA's Emergency Response Branch decided that taking immediate action at the site was not necessary, but it will continue to gather data, Cordner said.
Thousands of tons of copper, gold, lead, silver and zinc from mines throughout the West were handled at the Midvale site, The smelter was shut down in 1958, and milling activity ceased in 1971. During these operations, wastes were disposed of on the site.
In conjunction with the Sharon Steel plan, the state Air Conservation Committee has issued a compliance order. The committee has twice before ordered Sharon Steel to stabilize the tailings.
Sharon Steel said it was unable to comply with the last order, issued in May 1987, because the company declared bankruptcy. A court has allowed the company's trustee to spend $100,000 to cover the tailings, said Theisen.
An earlier proposal to flood part of the tailings site to control dust was not included in the present plan, partly because of concerns about Jordan River and ground water, Theisen said.
According to an engineering study outlining the plan, Sharon Steel will cover roads into the tailings area with Magnesium Chloride to reduce dust. After the crust is applied to tailings the company plans to inspect the site every two weeks.
The state will inspect the site each month and continue to monitor air in residential areas near the site. If the polymer shield deteriorates and dust starts to blow again, the company will have 20 days to correct the problem, said Theisen.