Utah Stories

Red Air – Wasatch Front Polluters

A Utah Stories follow-up to our coverage of the Wasatch Front’s biggest polluters


UT Divorce Illustration
Illustration by Jessica Hannan

Tis inversion season once again, so Utah Stories decided to check up on some controversial state polluters such as US Magnesium, Stericycle, as well as EnergySolutions’ continued efforts to bring depleted uranium into Utah.

US Magnesium—Tooele

Forty miles west of Salt Lake City and just a few miles from the shores of the Great Salt Lake lies US Magnesium, the nation’s biggest magnesium producer. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the site also produces harmful air and water pollution from discharges of toxins and cancerous chemicals with ominous sounding acronyms such as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls.

Activists like Lynn de Freitas, the Executive Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, have been raising awareness about the problem for decades. While activists helped push the facility to reduce chlorine air emissions by 90 percent in the 90s, she says the fight is far from over.

“It’s still a dirty business and it’s certainly a huge blot on the landscape,” de Freitas says.

The good news is that in 2008 the EPA sought to list the area as a Superfund site, which could compel US Magnesium to clean up the pollution. In January 2015, Friends of Great Salt Lake was awarded a federal grant to contract a third-party expert to help evaluate documents and research as the process moves forward in deciding how to best clean up the area. Those interested in keeping up-to-date on the study process and checking out public forums on the process should visit fogsl.org

Energy Solutions

The name may no longer adorn the Jazz’s home stadium but the company has not left town—far from it. The company still wants permission to place depleted uranium at its Clive, Utah facility, but the company had a setback in April when the Utah Department of Environmental Quality issued a report with eight concerns about the company’s proposal. Concerns include long-term safety of the dump site from factors such as frost, flooding and the company’s plan to put only a two-foot thick clay liner under the waste.

The report stated that “DEQ staff are concerned that EnergySolutions does not account for the deterioration of the clay liner over time, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has shown to be a nearly universal occurrence.” In December, the company filed a 100-page rebuttal to the report noting, among other things, that originally uranium tailings had been placed in Clive in the 80s, and at that time a clay liner was not even required. More public comment and evaluations will occur in 2016.


According to an Associated Press article, Stericycle gained a dubious distinction in Utah for garnering the largest fine–$2.3 million– for exceeding emission limits over 13 months between 2011 and 2012. But the company will only have to fork over half of that, if as part of its settlement, it relocates from North Salt Lake to Tooele. According to the Associated Press, the medical waste incinerator would propose to double production in Tooele, burning 18,000 tons of medical waste annually in the west desert community.

The proposal is still in the early stages and the public will have a chance to weigh in as the project progresses.


Read our previous investigation on industrial polluters in Utah.


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