A group of doctors, environmentalists and citizens has filed a lawsuit against Kennecott Utah Copper, alleging the company has violated the clean air laws at the Bingham Canyon Mine in Salt Lake City, UT.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), one of the groups of claimants, said dust from the mine can be "absorbed into the bloodstream, causing respiratory system damage, adverse pulmonary [heart and lungs] effects and potentially even premature death," The Guardian reported.
The claimants, which also include Utah Moms for Clean Air and environmental group Wildearth Guardians, said the mine has been "emitting particle matter at levels in excess of those allowed by the U.S. Clean Air Act" for at least five years.
Rio Tinto, parent company of Kennecott Utah Copper denies the claims. On its website, Kennecott Utah Copper stated, “We are confident that we have correctly followed state permitting procedures and did not exceed the amount of material the Utah Division of Air Quality has authorized Kennecott to move at the mine without prior approval.
“The EPA has authorized the State of Utah to modify the amount of material Kennecott is able to move at the mine through the state’s air permitting program. Consequently, there is no legal merit in Plaintiffs’ position.
“Kennecott has always and continues to operate within the parameters of its air permits and is consistently in compliance with EPA and DAQ regulations.”
Claimants allege emissions from the mine are a "major health threat to citizens living along the Wasatch Front [the northern part of Utah including the cities of Salt Lake City, Provo and Ogden]".
The lawsuit claims doctors had been "adversely affected" by the emissions from the mine, owned by Kennecott Utah Copper, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto. "On days with severe particulate matter [pollution] in Salt Lake, doctors have found the effect on people who are consistently outdoors is similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day."
In its defense documents, the company said the mine "complied with the relevant provisions of Utah's particle material [emissions] state implementation plan at all times".
"For over 15 years, Kennecott has operated an ambient air quality monitoring station at Copperton, Utah, which station is located to detect potential particulate matter impacts from Bingham Canyon Mine. This monitoring station consistently shows air quality readings well below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)."