At first glance, the state's annual toxic inventory report appears that industrial pollution in Utah is the worst ever.
But in fact, fewer chemicals were released into Utah's environment in 1999 as a result of industry improvements, making it the lowest release-to-air total in the 13-year history of the annual program.
"It's wonderful news," said Dianne Nielson, executive director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality. Unfortunately, the good news is masked because of new reporting requirements, she added.
The state released the 1999 data Wednesday in advance of the Environmental Protection Agency's annual Toxic Release Inventory report anticipated sometime soon.
Kennecott's copper operations in western Salt Lake County and Magnesium Corp. of America's magnesium plant on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Tooele County continue to top the list of toxic chemicals released into Utah's environment.
And all together, Utah industries pumped 1.2 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in the environment in 1999 compared to the 581 million pounds in 1998.
Ironically, the bulk of the increase is a result of a clean-up effort by Kennecott in the way it manages its waste rock. In 1999, the mine discontinued pouring water over its large piles of waste rock, which leached small amounts of copper and metals into the ground.
Yet in order to reduce the potential pollution to the groundwater, Kennecott stopped that practice. As soon as it did, the material no longer undergoing leaching is considered waste, and the metals in the waste are now required to be included in the toxic report, Nielson said.
"It is one of those quirks of the report," Nielson added. "When the TRI was established, it initially did not include those wastes."
There's other good news for Utah.
Magcorp, which often carries the dubious title as the nation's worst polluter because of the large amounts of chlorine released from its plant, has reduced its pollution. Magcorp released 47 million pounds of chlorine and other pollutants in 1999, compared with 58 million pounds in 1998.
Magcorp's releases are expected to decline when its new technology that will capture the chlorine is expected to be fully online.
Since 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required all companies that emit pollutants into the air, water and solid-waste streams to submit annual reports totaling the amount and type of emissions.
Data was collected from 171 Utah companies, about 72 percent of them located along the Wasatch Front.
Kennecott accounted for the majority of releases to the land in the form of copper, manganese, arsenic, zinc, lead and other metal compounds.
About 1 million pounds of chemicals were released to surface water, almost entirely nitrate releases from Geneva Steel to Utah Lake. Kennecott released various metals to the Great Salt Lake, an amount permitted under state and federal law.
The DEQ toxic report is available online at www.deq.state.ut.us/eqerr/SERC/Trihome.htm.