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A plan to relax pollution requirements at a commercial hazardous-waste incinerator in Tooele County has been released for public comment.

Under the plan, U.S. Pollution Control Inc. would be allowed to burn hazardous waste at an efficiency rate of 99.99 percent - which is all the law requires.The company, now owned by Toronto-based Laidlaw Environmental, is currently permitted to burn at a 99.9999 percent efficiency rate, 100 times cleaner than the 99.99 percent rate.

Originally owned by Union Pacific Corp., USPCI had applied for the higher rate because at the time it thought the rate would be easily achievable as well as more politically palatable.

Last year, however, USPCI applied to the state to change the efficiency rate to the 99.99 ("four nines") level. Among other things, USPCI wants the lower rate because it fears it may not be able to meet the higher rate in upcoming test burns at its facility, in remote Tooele County, 80 miles west of Salt Lake City.

Because the company is currently permitted at the 99.9999 ("six nines") level, if it can't achieve that efficiency during the tests, then it would be out of business - or at least back to the drawing board.

The company also is concerned about "leveling the playing field" in the depressed-yet-competitive world of hazardous-waste disposal. USPCI's competitor is Aptus Inc., which owns and operates an incinerator in Tooele County and is not required to burn at the more difficult six-nines efficiency rate.

Environmentalists are fighting USPCI's quest to burn less-efficiently, arguing that one of the incinerator's original selling points to the public was the higher efficiency rate.

In effect, USPCI is going back on its word, said Cindy King, of the Sierra Club.

If USPCI doesn't like the unlevel playing field, then the state should raise the standards on Aptus rather than lower the standards on USPCI, said King.

The problem with the lower standard is that residues from the more dangerous waste remain in the incinerator and can combine with other wastes to create dangerously high emissions of carcinogenic PCBs, dioxins and furans, she said.

"Inevitably, you're going to eat, drink and breathe what comes out of those incinerators in Tooele County," King said.

Dennis Downs, director of the state Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, which believes USPCI's plan is feasible, said the four-nines rate is adequate to protect health and the environment and is in line with state and federal requirements.

He added that in reality, even though USPCI is required to burn at the four-nines, it will likely burn at a higher rate, somewhere between four-nines and six-nines.

Some of the more dangerous hazardous wastes, such as dioxins and PCBs, will still have to be burned at the six-nines rate, as required by law.

A public comment period ends Oct. 13. Public hearings have been set for Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. in the Tooele County Courthouse, Tooele; and Wednesday, Oct. 4, at 10 a.m. in the Cannon Health Building, 288 N. 1460 West, Salt Lake City.