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USPCI, the hazardous-waste landfill at Grassy Mountain, Tooele County, has agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty for violating its federal permit in sampling, analysis and record keeping.

Owned by Union Pacific, USPCI is one of Utah's largest hazardous-waste disposal companies.The settlement was announced by the Environmental Protection Agency, which said USPCI could not receive any more "Superfund" hazardous wastes at the Grassy Mountain landfill until it met a long list of conditions.

A telephone caller contacted the Deseret News to complain that the penalty wasn't announced until after the end of the recent legislative session, at which USPCI lobbied hard and successfully for a limitation on raising waste disposal fees.

The penalty also is certain to be cited during a hearing - scheduled for the middle of this month - on whether USPCI should be granted a permit to operate a hazardous-waste incinerator.

The EPA alleged in September 1991 that USPCI's Grassy Mountain landfill violated its permit concerning industrial chemicals called organic halogens.

During a follow-up inspection in January, "USPCI's laboratory repeatedly failed to correctly analyze sample wastes EPA had prepared with known kinds and amounts of contaminants," said Marion Yoder of the EPA Denver regional office.

The tests are required because waste handlers must know what they have in order to properly dispose of different classes of chemicals. Also, because some wastes are not accepted, the landfill must know whether a company's shipping manifest matches the chemicals actually sent.

After the tests, EPA ordered the company to use an independent laboratory.

Charlie Roberts, community relations representative for USPCI, said the problem concerned "interpretation of complex regulations and did not have any impact on public health or the environment."

"It was determined that USPCI failed to follow a specific waste analysis procedure, according to EPA. We felt we had the regulatory latitude to improve our laboratory method without notifying EPA."

When told that the EPA penalized the company over its failure to identify hazardous chemicals - and not because of a difference in laboratory techniques, Roberts said he did not know about that aspect.

Bob Pruitt, an environmentalist lawyer who testified in January against USPCI's receiving a permit for the incinerator, said the penalty should be a warning of possible dangers to come.

"A hazardous-waste incinerator is a lot more complex to operate than a landfill," he said. "And if they can't get the most complex operation of a landfill right - the lab analysis - how can they operate something as complicated as a hazardous-waste incinerator right?"

Pruitt said studies by the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show malfunctions in incinerators are common. They supposedly destroy 99.9999 percent of the material, but "air control conditions do not work at their peak efficiency during their upset conditions."

Roberts said the penalty should not have any bearing on the incinerator permit. "They're not related - two different sites," he said.

The USPCI incinerator at Clive, Tooele County, 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, would burn up to 130,000 tons of hazardous waste per year.