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Group sues to halt stacks’ demolition

It says plan is unsafe because of asbestos, dust

SHARE Group sues to halt stacks’ demolition

MURRAY — Jay Johnson doesn't want the smokestacks to come down the way the EPA is planning to have it done on Sunday.

But if it happens, he wants a monitoring station on his porch and a chance to see for himself if dangerous toxins have spread north to his home.

Johnson is one of dozen Murray residents who have signed off on a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that seeks to delay Sunday morning's planned demolition of the Murray smokestacks.

"The only thing I don't agree with is the method they are going to use," Johnson said Wednesday. "The thing is, it has to be done safe."

The group says the EPA's demolition plan is unsafe because it fails to comply with federal regulations regarding asbestos.

"I used to remove asbestos for a living, and I know what I am talking about," Johnson said. "There is no way to contain those asbestos fibers safely."

The plan calls for the implosion of the two stacks on the old site of the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO) at about 5300 South and State Street.

Explosive charges will be strategically placed at the base of the smokestacks so they will fall toward the north and crumble into a trench. Officials believe the demolition will take no longer than 13 seconds. In the aftermath, dust control measures consist of water cannons sprayed over the length of the trenches and air sampling done for several hours afterward.

Enlisting the expertise of environmental scientist Bowen Call, the group calling itself "Citizens for a Health Environment" is seeking an injunction against the EPA and the partners in a proposed commercial development that will occupy the smokestack site. The group's members live in Lost Creek Apartments, just north of the demolition site.

Defendants named are Chimney Ridge, the Boyer Co., Hi-Ute Investment Co. and ASARCO.

Call's assessment of the EPA demolition plan was forwarded in a letter last November to the state Division of Air Quality, citing concerns about dust control and asbestos removal.

Call called the dust control plan "inadequate," given the level and types of contaminants found in the stacks.

"The stacks should be well soaked prior to any demolition and kept wet until cleaned up. There should not be any dust allowed to leave the site at all. The plan expects to clean up dust, not prevent dust," Call wrote.

Bert Garcia, EPA supervisor, said the agency would not proceed with the plan if their experts didn't feel it was safe.

The original plan did call for the removal of the asbestos from the stacks prior to the demolition, but studies found the stacks so unstable that they might crumble under the stress.

The agency then turned to the alternative, which is to reduce and prevent as much as possible the spread of contaminants once the stacks are brought down.

"Our intent is to put it in the trench and spray it with water to reduce the dust as much as possible," Garcia said. "We expect that the amounts of dust that would come off of them would pose no unacceptable risk. If we didn't think that, we would put a stop to the demolition."

Garcia said the post-demolition monitoring will measure the dust that comes off the site through taking air samples, settled dust samples and soil samples.

"We have some very conservative standards set for those materials."

Garcia said the agency has yet to see a complete copy of the federal complaint and was unsure what, if any, delay it might cause in Sunday's planned demolition.

E-mal: amyjoi@desnews.com