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The federal government again has sued U.S. Magnesium, alleging the processing plant that for years was the nation's worst polluter, has illegally manufactured and dumped carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at its site adjacent to the Great Salt Lake.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City names company owner Ira Rennert, the Renco Group and Rennert's trust as plaintiffs. The government seeks to hold Rennert responsible, force a cleanup and forbid further operations that would violate environmental laws.

The complaint does not say what financial penalties the government may be seeking. Justice Department spokesman Ben Porritt on Friday said the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department would seek the statutory maximum. Porritt said the complaint could be amended and therefore wouldn't estimate its potential cost.

U.S. Magnesium and Rennert already are embroiled in lawsuits seeking more than $2 billion in penalties.

The EPA in 2001 sued MagCorp, the company's former incarnation, to collect fines for toxic waste violations totaling $902 million. EPA claimed MagCorp was poisoning the environment with dioxins and hexachlorobenzene, a poison that was used in pesticides until banned in 1976 but still produced as a manufacturing byproduct.

In 2003, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court sued Rennert and his professional advisers for up to $1.5 billion, alleging the company sold bonds without informing investors about the dispute with EPA.

The newest lawsuit focuses on PCBs in dust and sludge left in the plant's buildings, pipes, ducts, wastewater ponds, landfill, ditches and soils.

While some levels of PCBs are allowed in manufacturing processes, they must be produced inadvertently at levels less than 50 parts per million. The lawsuit alleges PCBs were found at U.S. Magnesium in concentrations as high as 600 parts per million.

The magnesium company, the world's second-largest, operates a plant in Rowley, about 23 miles northwest of Grantsville in Tooele County and about 65 miles west of Salt Lake City. About 400 workers sift and boil minerals from the Great Salt Lake brine for use as a metal strengthener.

Rennert, a reclusive New York junk-bond financier who Forbes magazine once dubbed the "man with many enemies," bought the magnesium plant from Amax in 1989, renamed it Magnesium Corporation of America, or MagCorp. In 1996, Rennert's holding company sold bonds to raise $150 million. Rennert pocketed almost $89 million in management fees and dividends. In August 2001, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The following May, the holding company repurchased the plant at auction for $23 million, renamed it U.S. Magnesium and continued to claim its operations were exempt from the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. That law requires companies to monitor certain kinds of hazardous waste from the time it is created until it is disposed.

The latest lawsuit was written to make sure Rennert and any of his holding companies would be responsible for any of the plant's required cleanup.

Tom Tripp, U.S. Magnesium's technical services manager, said the new lawsuit grew out of the original, though it cites a different section of the federal code.

"We don't think there's a lot of merit to their allegations," Tripp said.

Porritt said EPA and the company have been in settlement negotiations since 2003, but the settlement period has expired without resolution. A hearing on the earlier case will be held May 20 before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. The new lawsuit had not yet been assigned a judge by Friday.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are either oily liquids or solids that are a mixture of individual chemicals and produced in the United States as manufacturing byproducts. Exposure to PCBs, which are not easily removed from the environment and linger in human tissues, has been linked to cancer, immune system problems, liver damage and birth defects.