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Coalition Rejects Kennecott's "Pump and Dump" Plan News Conference Draws Attention from Sa

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

Coalition Rejects Kennecott's "Pump and Dump" Plan News Conference Draws Attention from Salt Lake Media, NRD Trustee

An array of organizations and individuals held a press conference at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday, October 30th calling for modification of a planned project that would allow 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 supposedly had 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.

The press conference went very well. The two major newspapers, the Tribune and Desert News were both there along with West Valley News/Magna Times, a weekly, as well as two television stations and a member of the Department of Environmental Quality staff.

All the speakers covered the critical points, and Kennecott's parent company, Rio Tinto, did not escape criticism for its history of human and civil rights abuses, violations of labor law and disregard for the environment and public health around the world and in Utah, including the layoffs. State and county legislators, private well owners, the United Steelworkers of America, the Sierra Club and private wetland managers all expressed alarm at the plan. They said it could threaten private well owners' rights, waterfowl and waterfowl habitat, the Jordan River, the Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake County residents.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Salt Lake County Public Utilities Department, the water commissioner for the lower Jordan River and numerous potentially affected individuals have already publicly aired their concerns with the plan.

Under the plan, one series of wells would pump polluted water to a "reverse-osmosis" treatment plant. Treated water would be delivered to residents for drinking while the wastes produced would be dumped into the Jordan River.

One of the contaminants that Kennecott plans to dump in the Jordan River is selenium, which has been shown to cause reproductive problems for numerous wetlands bird species. This fact earned the ire of Dick West, President of an association representing private wetland managers on the south end of the Great Lake.

"Kennecott's selenium discharges would ultimately end up in and around wetlands along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. These wetlands are vital habitat for large populations of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl," said Dick West. "As the selenium accumulated over the forty year life of the plan, the ability of the lake to support such wildlife potentially would be threatened severely. Utah hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts would pay the price."

Added West, "Kennecott has a history of destroying wetlands through its selenium discharges. However, the company has recently bragged in its glossy public relations materials that it's reduced these discharges and is protecting Utah wetlands. So it is ironic that Kennecott now intends to adopt a plan that may destroy those wetlands."

Private well owners expressed alarm that Kennecott's planned project would lower the water table and cause their wells to go dry.

"My family and I rely on our well for drinking water and for our livelihoods. Kennecott compromising our ability to do so would violate our property rights," said Rod Dansie, who owns a well in Herriman. "I don't think Kennecott is concerned with cleaning up its pollution. They just want to generate drinking water for their planned Daybreak mixed-use development. Kennecott wants to make money off its real estate, but Utah well owners shouldn't be left high and dry."

State and county legislators at the press conference questioned why environmental regulators would agree to the plan. "Utah Department of Environmental Quality's mandate is not to authorize wholesale polluting of our lakes and streams," said Utah House Minority Leader Brent Goodfellow. "What we need is a sound cleanup, not another Superfund site."

Goodfellow has brought the matter to the attention of the Utah Legislative Management Committee. He said the committee is scheduled to discuss it at its November 18th meeting.

One speaker at the press conference portrayed the planned project as a missed opportunity to create jobs.

"Rather than disposing of the pollution in an environmentally threatening way, why not seek to recover toxic metals from the plume?" questioned United Steelworkers of America representative Kelly Hanson. "The aquifer is potentially a liquid mine, and mining it could create employment for Utah residents."

Under the plan, some of the contaminants extracted from the polluted groundwater- including those from the highly toxic acidic core- would be disposed of in the unlined Magna Tailings Impoundment. Marc Heileson of the Sierra Club argued that this is not an appropriate disposal method.

"This impoundment is totally inadequate as a toxic metals repository. These wastes must be put in a secure landfill. If the plan is allowed to go ahead, it's entirely possible the toxic metals will end up mixing with Great Salt Lake waters and sediments," said Heileson.

"It is absolutely crucial that Kennecott be forced to clean the groundwater it contaminated for so many years," stated United Steelworkers of America Environmental Projects Coordinator Diane Heminway. "However, it makes absolutely no sense to let Kennecott dump the harmful contaminants back into Utah's surface water or dispose of them in an unlined landfill. This pump and dump plan is outlandish."

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

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