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EPA LEAVING SLAG ALONE - FOR NOW

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided what to do with the huge black piles of slag in Midvale.

Nothing. More study is needed, the EPA says.And that's more than enough to rile Midvale Mayor Donald Poul-sen, who wants to see the 2.4 million cubic yards of slag put to good use.

"I don't like it," Poulsen said. "What have they (EPA officials) been doing for nine years? It's about time they made a decision."

Though the EPA has chosen not to do anything with the slag for now, it will "stabilize" about 583,000 cubic yards of nearby smelter wastes, which the EPA believes pose a bigger threat to human health and the environment.

The slag and smelter wastes are what's left of smelting and slag-processing operations that began in 1902. The site, bordered by 7200 and 7800 South and about 700 West and the Jordan River, was put on the EPA's Superfund list of national cleanup priorities in 1991. (The site is not to be confused with the Sharon Steel Superfund site, a couple of blocks to the south.)

Shortly after the Superfund listing, the property's current owner, Blackhawk Slag Products, ceased operations, largely because of a lack of customers.

But Poulsen said Blackhawk should be allowed to try marketing the slag again.

"My proposal is to let the people get back in business," Poulsen said, noting that before EPA came along, the slag was used for road base and railroad ballast all over the county.

Poulsen said the EPA is wasting time and money by not acting on the slag, which is the solid, glassy waste produced by smelting ore to metal. The slag has never been proven to be hazardous, the mayor said.

But EPA project manager Mike Strieby said the Midvale slag is tricky stuff.

"It happens to be quite variable," Strieby said. "The slag at the Midvale site happens to have high levels of lead and arsenic encapsulated within the slag itself. If you break the particles of the slag into finer material, it becomes more easy to release the heavy metals into the environment."

So, "until the EPA determines what is a legitimate use of that material, it will probably stay there," he said.

Rejecting seven other alternatives, some of which suggested removing the slag piles to a landfill, the EPA's preferred alternative for the Midvale Slag Superfund Site includes:

- Stabilizing the smelter wastes by mixing them with cement to form a concrete that will not leach into the groundwater. If the stabilization does not prove satisfactory, it could be capped at an additional cost of $2 million.

- Leaving the slag piles in place pending further study.

- Further evaluation of contamination to the shallow aquifers. If necessary, the contaminated water could be pumped and treated at an additional cost of $5 million.

The baseline cost for the project is estimated at just under $13 million. The cleanup will be funded in part with $5 million from an earlier settlement with the owners of Sharon Steel, which contributed to some of the soil contamination and which owns a few acres of the Midvale slag site.

The remainder of the funding will come from the EPA's Superfund. After the cleanup, the EPA will then seek to recover its money from Blackhawk, a subsidiary of Illinois-based Littleson Inc., Strieby said.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Meeting Sept. 28

A public meeting on the EPA's preferred option for the Midvale Slag Superfund Site will be held Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. at City Hall, 80 E. Center, Midvale. Written comments will be accepted until Oct. 12. Send them to Mike Strieby, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (8HWM-SR), 999 18th St., Suite 500, Denver, CO 80202-2466.