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Explosives plant is ending operations

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PROVO (AP) — After years of controversy over alleged pollution and contamination, Ensign-Bickford has ended operations at its Utah County explosives plant.

It may take up to six months to move all of the equipment out of the facility, Managing Director Michael Long said, but operations ended earlier this month — well before the Feb. 28 deadline.

Removing sensitive equipment that involves explosives usually takes longer because of safety concerns, he said.

"You can't just sort of wring your hands and walk away," Long said.

The Mapleton-area plant made cast boosters, explosives used to set off blasting agents. Its closure meant the loss of about 90 jobs.

In announcing the closure last September, Long said the company, based in Simsbury, Conn., planned to focus on its aerospace, defense and realty ventures.

Long said demand for the plant's product had diminished. The company was unable to sell the Spanish Fork plant after it decided in 2003 to get out of the commercial explosives business.

He said the decision was not tied to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against it by Mapleton.

Ensign-Bickford was accused of polluting Mapleton's groundwater in the 1980s. In 1991, the state ordered the company to test groundwater for contamination, and the water was found to be tainted with chemicals used in the production of explosive.

Ensign-Bickford reached a settlement with Mapleton officials in 1997.

Mapleton sued Ensign-Bickford again in 2003 when further contamination was found.

In 1999, Ensign-Bickford was also sued by three Mapleton families, who claimed the polluted water had caused some in their families to contract non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Those lawsuits were also settled out of court, but the company did not admit liability.

In 2004, the company and a previous owner of the facility agreed to pay Utah nearly $12 million in reparations for contaminating the water.

More recently, Mapleton officials questioned the levels of chemicals released into the air by burning operations that were part of the plant's closure. Air quality tests showed trace levels of chemicals and TNT used in facility's explosives. However, state environmental officials say the levels of the chemicals were well within the safety standards.