The Environmental Protection Agency will announce by June 10 its proposals to clean up the several million tons of tailings that remain from Midvale's once-booming ore-processing industry.
A June 17 public hearing (time and place have yet to be determined) will follow, and by Sept. 30, the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality will have decided what to do with the tailings, which total 10 million tons, an amount city officials are fond of saying is equal in volume to 17 Great Pyramids."We need to get this thing out the door. We're on the hook by Congress and (EPA) headquarters in D.C. to get it done by Sept. 30," said Sam Vance, the EPA's project manager for the Sharon Steel site, where most of the tailings are concentrated.
The cleanup is part of a two-phase effort to do something about the ore-processing industry's leftovers, which are considered unhealthy because they contain hazardous levels of heavy metals. For years, dust from the Sharon Steel site, just west of Interstate 15 in the vicinity of 7800 South, has wafted around the city, settling into soil throughout Midvale. This summer, DEQ and EPA will begin a joint effort to rid soil of the residue; government workers will literally replace many back yards on some 1,000 private properties.
The sheer scope of the cleanup project makes it unusual, even by national standards.
"What makes this site unique is what makes many other mining sites unique," said Vance. "One, it's not just an old chemical or industrial facility - it's very large. And two, a portion of the Superfund site is in people's back yards . . . that's what makes these more difficult to deal with . . . and we're dealing with people's lives in a very invasive way."
Vance said the EPA is open to public input on what to do with the tailings piles at the Sharon Steel site. He said costs "range from the minimal to the outrageous," but the EPA hopes they will be funded entirely from a $64 million settlement paid in 1990 by Sharon Steel, Atlantic Richfield Co. and UN Industries Liquidating Trust, all of which were connected in one way or another to the tailings. About $5 million of the settlement is earmarked toward cleanup of slag heaps from the former ore-processing facilities, and $22.5 million is likely to be spent on the residential-yard cleanup. Should the project costs exceed the $64 million settlement, the EPA would have to dip into its Superfund account, a move Vance said would require a 10-percent match from the state.
The EPA's five tailings-cleanup proposals:
- Covering them with an impermeable clay cap, an alternative that might allow development of the area and could permit the city to realize its wish for seeing the old site turned into a parklike setting that might include a golf course.
- A "minimal-site control" tack that would leave a fence surrounding the site in place, apply a "dust-suppressant" to the tailings and bar any future development of the 270-acre site.
- A "fixation" process by which the tailings would be chemically solidified and rendered inert in what Vance said is a "wonderful idea but remarkably expensive." That move could also nearly double the volume of the tailings, creating heaps as high as 120 feet.
- A "vitrification" alternative in which workers would use electric probes to turn the tailings into glass, another process Vance said might be prohibitively expensive.
- Carting the tailings off to a remote site.
Vance said a proposal by the Salt Lake City-based International Remediation Corp. that would chemically treat the tailings to extract heavy metals was not included in the alternatives because the EPA fears it might be unworkable.
"It was our opinion that there were enough concerns about the chemicals being used and their potential to compromise the groundwater" to preclude that proposal from the list of alternatives, said Vance, though he added it will still be considered during the public-comment period this summer.
Dave Nichol, a Midvale city councilman, said a recent International Remediation Corp. pitch made to the city "interested us because it's our position that we're really against the capping proposal. We want the tailings out of here."
"What they say sounds real great but I can't pass judgment," said Mayor Everett Dahl, deferring to experts in the field.
Mark Mattice, director of marketing for International Remediation, said the company, which has branch offices in four other states, is currently using its process to clean up an Army Corps of Engineers site in California.
"We know we can do the project for about the same amount of money it would cost to cap it, and it would be gone," said Mattice.
After the June 17 hearing, the public is allowed 30 days to submit comments, with the opportunity of extending that deadline another 30 days if requested.
The tailings site, whose modern history dates to the 1902 construction of buildings associated with the former U.S. Mining Co., employed some 1,500 people in its heyday. Buckling to foreign competition, the mill facilities closed in 1977.