Lead is found on trail | ParkRecord.com

Lead is found on trail

By Caleb Diehl, Park Record Intern

Biking along the Rail Trail could turn from fitness routine to health hazard, according to tests paid for by Arizona-based lead and copper mining company Asarco. In a letter to Mayor Williams and three other Utah mayors, Asarco Attorney Gregory Evans cited surveys that show harmful levels of lead and other heavy metals along the trail’s first 3.5 miles.

Park City officials expressed skepticism. "It’s not clear to me what this letter is about," said Joan Card, Park City’s environmental regulatory affairs manager. Evans’ letter brings few new data points or solutions to a longstanding battle against contamination.

Evans wrote that along railroad lines since converted to trails, Union Pacific piled up hazardous tailings and slag to form a base for its tracks. He added that ore billowed from the beds of railroad cars and dumped from weep holes as they traversed company routes.

Now, Evans wrote, "despite its asphalt cap, testing recently conducted alongside the trail near Bonanza Drive in Park City found continuing lead contamination with concentrations measured at 1,369 and 1,034 ppm (parts per million) in the topsoil."

He added, "Contamination also was evident in a recent test of soils on the trail just beyond the section protected with an asphalt cap." Past the trail’s intersection with Route 248, Evans said tests found lead concentrated at 995 ppm, 1,021 ppm and 537 ppm.

State and Salt Lake City Officials quoted in a Salt Lake Tribune Article about the letter expressed confusion about what Asarco wanted them to do. They said they knew about the contamination for years and took steps to deal with it.

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In 1994, the Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Recreation, the owner of the Rail Trail land, wrote to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality to describe steps trail managers took to seal off contaminants and protect residents.

The trail’s seven-inch asphalt covering meets UDEQ’s minimum standards. The road base should repel precipitation to prevent lead from leeching into the soil.

The EPA forbids lead contamination of over 400ppm in children’s playgrounds, but UDEQ permits up to 2100ppm in non-residential areas. With such a wide range of standards, Card said, it is difficult to determine the effect of reported levels. The EPA warns dangers from lead-contaminated soil mostly come from ingestion.

When Asarco filed for bankruptcy in 2009, the EPA forced the company to pay $1.79 billion dollars to settle for environmental damage. To pay for cleanups, Asarco has tried a number of lawsuits to get money from Union Pacific and other firms Asarco says shared in its polluting.

Evans cited tests conducted using X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometry to measure high concentrations of heavy metals along the trail’s paved section and segments of Silver Creek. Card said XRF is a standard tool for measuring lead levels.

Airborne contaminants could also be hanging around the trail. Still, said Card, "Without a specific report you can’t be certain."

Card added, "There is no way to verify anything they (Asarco) said in their letter," which does not carry the same weight as a scientific report. It frequently refers to test results without providing specific data or describing methods.

Mayor Williams has not yet responded to Evan’s call to action, but Card said the city will prepare a response. After that, they will investigate the claims. "Our next step will be to consult with the owners of the land," said Card.

Card said bikers and walkers don’t face much danger unless they plan on eating dirt. Personally, she added, "I have no concerns about walking or riding the Rail Trail."