California officials had hoped this month to begin sending 20 tons of dioxin-contaminated ash to the Aptus Inc. incinerator in Tooele County.

But talk of dioxin, one of the most toxic compounds known to science, has scared Aptus officials away."We are not certified to take dioxin waste," said Aptus spokeswoman Maggie Wilde, whose company learned of the controversy Monday. "We won't take it. It's a plain business decision."

The California Environmental Protection Agency wants to send the ash from Rosamond, Calif., 50 miles north of Los Angeles, to Aptus, which operates Utah's only commercial hazardous-waste incinerator.

When the Deseret News began inquiring about the proposal on Monday, however, Utah environmental officials contacted Aptus, which then decided to reject the waste.

Part of the reason, Wilde said, is confusion over what the waste actually contains. Last summer, when California approached Aptus to take the waste, the profiles, or descriptions, of the waste showed no signs of the types of dioxins that Aptus is prohibited from taking.

Now, Aptus apparently is unsure or doesn't want to take a chance on that uncertainty. The company also may be worried about the bad publicity.

"Is it a dioxin? Maybe. I don't know," Wilde said. "If it's regulated as a dioxin, I can't burn it."

Aptus' decision surprised California officials, who were preparing to begin shipment in a few weeks, said Ron Baker, spokesman for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

"I spoke with the project manager this morning, and we were under the impression that this was a done deal," Baker said. "Now we're going to have to go back to the drawing board."

Aptus' decision not to accept the waste will please grass-roots activists in California, who are fighting the proposal, saying the waste is safe where it is.

"It's not hurting anyone right now. We think that since it was produced here, it should stay here until we find new technology that can neutralize it," said Stormy Williams, president of California Communities Against Toxics.

Williams said the risk of shipping the waste through three states is too high. "This is a catastrophe waiting to happen." (Please see related story on A1.)

Though a public comment period on the proposal ended Monday in California, Utah officials were unaware of the shipment until Monday.

"They (Aptus officials) are not required to notify us as long as the shipment is within their permit parameters," said Dennis Downs, director of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste.

The ash - generated from a now-defunct scrap-metal company called Mobile Smelting - contains dioxin concentrations of 323,000 parts per billion, a figure astronomically higher than the federal "safe" level of 1 ppb.

"I must confess, (this waste) contains the highest levels of dioxin we've ever found in our state," Baker said.

Cleanup efforts at the 13-acre Mobile Smelting site, which California authorities shut down four years ago, have already cost $3 million. The cost could exceed $10 million. Shipping the 20 tons of dioxin-laced ash to Utah, however, is expected to cost only $100,000.

The Mobile Smelting site is a source of environmental contamination in the Rosamond-Mojave area, which has the worst childhood cancer cluster in the state, Williams said.

A California Department of Health Services letter warns people not to eat eggs produced near the Mobile Smelting facility "because of the levels of dioxins that were found in them."


Additional Information

Deadly dioxins linked to cancer

Dioxins - chemicals produced inadvertently by manufacturing and combustion - are proven carcinogens in laboratory animals and are believed to cause cancer in humans. Further, dioxin is bioaccumulative, meaning it does not break down easily in the environment or in animal tissues.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in the midst of a massive three-year scientific review of dioxin, released a draft reassessment of the chemical this summer, reaffirming the link between dioxin and cancer and concluding that dioxin exposure causes reproductive, immunological and developmental disorders. Not waiting for the final report, the EPA has called for tough new standards on municipal waste incinerators, such as the burn plant in Davis County, which are believed to be the second-largest source of air dioxin emissions in the country.