The Soda Springs City Council has voted to at least temporarily ban the use of slag from phosphate processing for street maintenance until more information on radiation effects has been gathered.
This recent move by the council, at the urging of Mayor Kirk Hansen, follows similar action taken by the city of Pocatello following a report from the Environmental Protection Agency that the phosphate byproduct contains radiation levels possibly sufficient to increase the risk of cancer in the area."I don't think the final verdict is in," Hansen said, but "we need to cooperate with them and our industry."
The EPA report, which is to be supplemented with additional research information, has prompted the Monsanto Co., a major phosphate processor in southeastern Idaho, to suspend sales of the slag material for road work pending a more definitive position on the radiation issue from the government.
"We don't think it is a problem," Monsanto's Kent Lott said. "But the politics of it says you don't use it. We'll cooperate with EPA with their efforts to get further data."
But Lott said the company was upset because "EPA used inflammatory terms to get people stirred up. We think that's wrong.
"We're trying to get our side of the story out," he said. "We have internal radiation experts and have consulted with outside experts. . . . We are open to suggestions to get further input from the public."
Lott also maintained that Caribou County is among the 6 percent of all the counties in the nation with the lowest rate of cancer.
But the EPA report suggested that over a 70-year period the slag, used in streets, sidewalks and some building foundations, could be responsible for 14 cancer deaths for every 10,000 people in the Soda Springs area and four cancer deaths for every 10,000 people in Pocatello.
"We're here to fulfill whatever is in the best interests of the city," Hansen said.