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Testing on and around the old Murray Smelter site could begin as early as the beginning of September, an ASARCO official told an audience of two dozen area residents Thursday.

At least that is the hope, said Jim Fricke, a senior environmental scientist with ASARCO's technical services center. In an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and Murray, ASARCO (American Smelting and Refining Co.) - which owned the smelter - will pay for area cleanup and conduct field studies. But because officials don't yet know the extent of contamination at the site, west of State Street between 5000 and 5300 South, the cost of cleanup has not yet been determined, Fricke said.Fricke joined representatives from the EPA, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and Murray City in an hour-and-a-half update on the smelter at City Hall.

The small group of residents, which Mayor Lynn Pett deemed an impressive showing, received answers to their questions about interim preventative health mea-sures, the cleanup's effect on property values, possible effects on garden produce and results of a three-year-old EPA sampling.

The EPA, which conducted preliminary tests in Murray in 1992, is concerned the community - only 9 square miles - contains unusually high levels of arsenic and lead. Although both elements are naturally occurring, elevated levels are harmful to humans. Arsenic, a Group A carcinogen, has been linked to cancer of the liver, kidneys and bladder. Lead, which affects development of organs, is especially harmful to children. Officials, though, aren't yet sure if there is a contamination problem in Murray.

"These areas have been determined to be impacted. That doesn't mean severely, it just means we need to understand it a bit more," said the EPA's Bonnie Lavelle, project coordinator for the Murray plan. "As soon as we've answered the questions we've posed, we will leave."

Lavelle assured residents at least twice that sampling tasks will be completed as soon as possible. She also told them the project's success is dependent upon residents' and businesses' willingness to allow sampling in their backyards.

It will take at least 12 months to complete soil, surface water, groundwater and sedimentary testing. Evaluating the data will take another 12 months, Lavelle said.

At the turn of the century, Murray was home to as many as 13 smelters, according to Fricke. But ASARCO is the only one whose remnants remain visible. The New York-based smelter company processed lead-silver ores. It operated in Murray from 1905 to 1949.

One man, who said he lived near the site for years and recalled smelter smoke filtering inside Murray High, asked why now for the cleanup.

"The damage has already been done," he said. "No one was interested at that time."

Lavelle responded, "We can't do much about the past, but we can protect your children."

Pett said the smelter site, roughly 142 acres, is "really our last big piece of land for development."