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The amount of hazardous waste shipped to Utah for disposal has quadrupled since 2001, largely because of a commercial waste company's decision to consolidate operations, a state official said Thursday.
The state imported 146,413 tons of hazardous waste in 2002 and 2003, according to the biennial hazardous waste generation and management report compiled by the state Department of Environmental Quality. During the previous two-year reporting period, 2000-2001, the state imported 35,677 tons of hazardous waste.
Rusty Lundberg, the department's solid waste branch manager, said Clean Harbors, a company with more than 100 facilities throughout North America, has turned its Tooele County incinerator at Aragonite into a kind of "super center" for its disposal operations.
In turn, the Clean Harbors landfill at Grassy Mountain is taking more of the incinerator's waste ash, Lundberg said. The Aragonite facility was Utah's largest hazardous-waste generator and the facility that accepted the most waste for the period, creating 17,892 tons of material and accepting 101,143 tons from out of state.
Clean Harbors, based in Braintree, Mass., bought out the bankrupt Safety-Kleen Corp. chemical services division in September 2002. After the acquisition, the company was able to handle more of its own waste disposal, said Phillip Retallick, senior vice president for compliance and regulatory affairs. That made the company's operations more cost-effective, he said.
The Clean Harbors operations are in Tooele County's so-called Hazardous Industries Zone, a large area of the west desert that also is home to Envirocare of Utah.
While Utah imported more waste in the 2002-2003 reporting period, the quantity was far less than some states in the 2000-2001 reporting period. During that time, Ohio accepted nearly 509,000 tons of hazardous waste. Michigan accepted 394,000 tons. Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas, Illinois, South Carolina and Missouri each accepted more than 200,000 tons.
Still, the state is making itself known as a convenient waste dump, said Vanessa Pierce, a spokeswoman for the anti-waste group Healthy Environment Alliance Utah.
"As long as Utah continues to act as the rug under which the nation's toxic wastes are swept, we enable the generation of ever more hazardous and nuclear waste," she said. "The responsibility [for this] rests squarely on the shoulders of the policy-makers."
After the Aragonite facility, Utah's largest hazardous-waste producers were Nucor Steel, Deseret Chemical Depot, ATK Thiokol's Bacchus plant in West Valley City, Tooele Army Depot, ATK Thiokol in Corinne, Northeast Casualty in Clive, Hill Air Force Base and Envirocare of Utah. The nine facilities accounted for 86 percent of the total reported statewide.
Envirocare accepted 26,086 tons of hazardous waste mixed with low-level radioactive waste. Grassy Mountain accepted 93,246 tons of hazardous nonradioactive material.
Utah must compile the report every two years to satisfy the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. During the 2003 reporting cycle, 74 Utah facilities generated 60,408 tons of hazardous waste, which doesn't include hazardous wastewater handled at facility sites. Of that, 24,388 tons were shipped out of state for disposal, mostly to Idaho.
The 2003 report shows a general decline from 2001, when facilities generated 89,391 tons of hazardous waste. The large generators reported more than 25,000 tons of solvents. Incineration, thermal treatment, pollution control equipment, painting, equipment maintenance and outdated products and chemicals were the primary sources of hazardous wastes.
Utah ranked 30th in the nation for quantity of hazardous waste produced but accounted for less than 0.01 percent of the nation's total.
The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet released the 2003 reporting cycle nationwide report. But Lundberg said the rankings don't tend to change much.
The 2001 report showed Utah ranked 36th for waste generated. The top five hazardous waste generating states that cycle were Texas, Louisiana, New York, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Market dynamics depend on when companies decide to do cleanups, Lundberg said. Companies also take steps to reduce waste at the front end by substituting less-polluting materials in their processes, he said.
States' disposal and financial assurance fees also can influence where companies decide to send their hazardous materials for disposal. While Lundberg has not seen any comprehensive studies of states' fees, he is certain Utah isn't the cheapest.
"This is an open market," he said. "Sometimes [companies] find better deals elsewhere."