US Magnesium’s superfund plan needs Great Salt Lake levels to rise

US Magnesium, who was in the news earlier this year for findings that showed their operations account for up to 25% of the Wasatch Front’s PM2.5 pollution, is in the news again for something equally as concerning. “The plan for the Superfund site requires sufficient water in the Great Salt Lake to create a salt “cap” to seal in toxic waste,” the Salt Lake Tribune headline states. 

Superfund sites were established initially to assist communities and the environment by cleaning up abandoned projects or sites that have especially concerning pollution and health implications. US Magnesium is far from abandoned, but is somehow able to pollute enough to be dubbed a Superfund site yet still continue to operate. 

The EPA and US Magnesiums plan to reduce the health and pollution hazard of the operations boarding Great Salt Lake require healthy water levels in the lake, however. Alternative options are being concerned due to the unstable conditions the state of Utah has created by not making water conservation a priority. 

Salt ponds in Great Salt Lake from above, Utah.

Hexachlorobenzene is one of the by-products created by US Magnesium operations. It was initially used as a pesticide but is now banned internationally due to its health risks. Officials say residents wouldn’t be exposed because people don’t come near the site, but wastewater from the company’s ponds has leaked out into the groundwater and Great Salt Lake. 

The Salt Lake Tribune articles writes “The EPA’s settlement with US Magnesium calls for both a closure bond, providing money for the federal government to complete the cleanup if the company doesn’t, and for US Magnesium to deed the EPA 4,000 acre feet of the water rights owned by the company in order to guarantee the agency would have the capacity to seal off the contaminated waste pond. Four thousand acre feet is enough water to supply 4,000-8,000 new homes; US Magnesium drew just over 50,000 acre feet of water from the lake last year.”

The connection between US Magnesium and Great Salt Lake water levels is very complex. Their attempt to extend their intake canals from the lake was denied by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality late last year. 

Utah has put itself in an unfortunate position where we need water to suppress and contain the pollution created by big industries, not unlike dust suppression at local gravel pits and mines.

Find the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage here.