MAC: Mines and Communities

Groups Reject Kennecott's "Pump and Dump" Plan citing threats to Property Rights, Communi

Published by MAC on 2003-10-29

Groups Reject Kennecott's "Pump and Dump" Plan citing threats to Property Rights, Community, Wildlife and Environment

KUC Campaign for Justice - Copperhead News No. 19

October 29, 2003

A broad array of organizations and individuals will hold a press conference Thursday, October 30, 2003 at 2 p.m. at the Utah State Capitol calling for modification of a planned project that would allow Rio Tinto plc/Ltd subsidiary Kennecott Utah Copper to dump thousands of tons of contaminants into the Jordan River and ultimately, the marshes of the Great Salt Lake.

The planned project has been devised to treat or dispose of groundwater polluted by Kennecott. Pollutants include sulfates, acids and metals that can cause cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system.

State and county legislators, private well owners, the United Steelworkers of America, the Sierra Club and private wetland managers will all criticize the plan because it could threaten private well owners' rights, waterfowl and waterfowl habitat, the Jordan River, the Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake County residents.

Deadline Nears for Groundwater Comments
Submit your written comments by November 1st!

After the dynamic testimony presented by Diane Heminway and other USWA representatives at the last public hearing, the State of Utah Natural Damage Trustee has extended the public comment period for the Southwest Jordan Valley groundwater cleanup project until November 1, 2003. The extension will provide additional time for individuals to review and understand the agreements for cleaning up sulfate-contaminated ground water and allow individuals to comment publicly on the matter.

This project may affect you and your family!
Use the following information to help you write your letter:

Background: A vast supply of ground water, contaminated by mining activities from past and current Kennecott operations is finally slated for cleanup. Studies show that plumes of contamination within the aquifer have spread, causing 171,000 acre feet of ground water to be tainted by chemicals at concentrations above health based standards. Approximately 150 square mile area was studied, revealing a toxic plume of over 72 square miles underlying the communities of West Jordan, South Jordan, Riverton, Herriman and adjacent areas of southwest Salt Lake County. The ground water, which flows underground from the Oquirrh Mountains toward the Jordan River, is polluted with sulfates, acids and metals that can cause cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system.

Health concerns: have prompted the proposed cleanup project, which is being overseen by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ). A major concern is the threat posed to municipal well fields of West Jordan and Riverton by the plumes of contamination.

The Project: Over a projected 40 years, large volumes of groundwater will be extracted from a large plume, which has been divided into two areas commonly referred to as zone A and Zone B. Zone A is particularly problematic because it contains a highly acidic core and higher concentrations of toxic metals.

1) Sulfate Plume Zone A - Pumping wells, with a combined capacity to extract up to 3,000 gallons per minute (gpm) will draw water from the large sulfate plume. Delivered by pipeline, the water will be treated by Kennecott, using reverse osmosis - a system that forces water through a series of membranes to remove contaminants. The treated water will be made available for municipal use. The wastes collected by the membranes will be disposed of in the Magna Tailings Impoundment.

2) Acid Core Zone A - The highly acidic core of Zone A will be extracted and sent to the Magna Tailings Impoundment where it will mix with tailings slurry, wastes from the reverse osmosis membranes, and possibly with lime to assist in neutralizing the acidity.

3) Sulfate Plume Zone B - Considered less contaminated than Zone A, this sulfate plume will be treated with reverse osmosis membranes, most of the water made available for municipal use and the wastes collected by the membranes are proposed for discharge to the Jordan River.

So what's the problem?

Rebates for Kennecott: Bound by a legal agreement, in the mid 1990's Kennecott deposited $28 million to an interest-bearing account earmarked for ground water cleanup. That fund is now worth $48.1 million. Under the current arrangement, Kennecott is to fund expenses related to the treatment projects; however, if treatment projections are met, 15% of the fund will be refunded to Kennecott annually for five years. After 5 years, Kennecott will receive the balance of the monies in the fund.

* Why is Kennecott being rewarded for cleaning up their own pollution? They should be required to pay for the cleanup AND pay a fine, as has been the case with other polluters.

* What incentive will Kennecott have to continue treating the groundwater once the balance of this money has been given to them? What happens if Kennecott decides to dodge their responsibility and follow the lead of other corporations and file bankruptcy?

* Kennecott/Rio Tinto should provide a long-term trust fund to ensure their commitment to the community in which they have operated and made their profits. Taxpayers should not end up footing the bill for remediating the groundwater.

Great Salt Lake: According to the project plan, waste "concentrates" from both Zone A and Zone B will be directly disposed to the Great Salt Lake if they cannot be disposed in the impoundment for "various reasons such as permitting or after mine closure."

* The "concentrates," or waste products, will be largely comprised of toxic metals such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium and selenium, and are known to harm humans and wildlife. The Great Salt Lake is a unique ecosystem that should be protected and studied, not abused as toxic waste site.

Magna Tailings Impoundment: The current plan uses the Magna Tailings Impoundment for the disposal of extracted liquid from the acid core and "treatment concentrates" (wastes collected by the membranes) from the Reverse Osmosis plant.

* Transferring the wastes from underground to the surface is a poor option no matter how you look at it. Instead, Kennecott should be required to initiate a pilot project to recover the metals. Liquid mining of aluminum and other metals could prove to be a lucrative endeavor both environmentally and economically as it would provide a desirable "recycled" product, as well as future jobs.

* If wastes are disposed of in the Magna Tailings Impoundment, what efforts will be made to keep them from moving offsite through wind, rain and other natural forces, including earthquakes?

Jordan River: Wastes from the reverse osmosis system in Zone B are proposed to be disposed into the Jordan River through a water discharge permit, recently applied for by the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.

* If wastes cannot be processed for recycling, they should be shipped to a secure location where they will not cause further harm to public health or the environment. It is unacceptable to dump waste into a river simply because it is cheaper than paying for the cost of disposal. This disposal option is particularly unacceptable in Utah where water resources have become increasingly scarce. If Kennecott had managed its waste properly by isolating it from the environment rather than in unlined reservoirs and evaporation ponds, they would have saved much money and avoided environmental damage. This mistake should not be repeated.

Residential Wells: Extracting huge volumes of water from the aquifer is likely to significantly lower the water table, consequently causing residential wells to go dry. It is also possible that fluctuations could result in unpredictable diversion and flow of the contaminated ground water plume, possibly resulting in the contamination of residential wells.

* Who will determine whether or not the Kennecott is responsible? * How will private well owners be compensated? * What recourse will well owners have if it is "determined" that Kennecott's treatment project is not responsible?

Water rights: Some contend that Kennecott is currently using expired or lapsed water rights.

Comments and letters should be sent to:

Dianne Nielson Utah Department of Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 144810
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-4810

Written comments can also be sent to the Trustee via email at or faxed to (801) 536-0061.

All public comments must be transmitted or postmarked on or before November 1, 2003.
For more information, call 801-536-4402.

Tel: 801.972.3433 or 412.562.6968
USWA, Ste. 1003, Five Gateway Ctr.,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222 U


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