Salt Lake City, Utah, home to Rio Tinto’s highly profitable Kennecott Utah Copper mine, just received big fat “F” from the American Lung Association for its air quality (www.stateoftheair.org/). This is yet another “F” in a long string of failing grades that Salt Lake City has received for its poor air quality – and is no surprise to local residents.
According to another report released by the E.P.A. – the Toxic Release Inventory report – toxic emissions increased nationwide about 16% in a one year period. Incredibly, much of this national increase was due specifically to changes at one mine – Utah’s Rio Tinto Kennecott mine.
The mine’s Wasatch Front power plant and concentrators ranked 4th nationally for toxic releases with 161 million pounds of reported releases. If the mine’s refinery and smelter, which release an additional 32 million pounds of toxins, are counted with the releases from the power plant and smelter – as they should be – then Kennecott ranks 3rd on the national list of toxic releases.
Thus, thanks primarily to Kennecott’s mining activities, Utah has the third highest toxic releases in the nation and Salt Lake County also ranks third among counties.
According to the E.P.A. data (www.epa.gov/tri/NationalAnalysis/index.htm), the total amount of toxic chemicals reported in Utah was nearly 212 million pounds, which equals about 76 pounds per citizen!
These numbers – 212 pounds; 161 million pounds; and 32 million pounds – have real consequences for the people who are forced to breathe this toxic air. Think heart failure, strokes, asthma attacks and… the babies who never wake up from their naps (SIDS). The fact is, every year between 1000 and 2000 people die prematurely in Utah due to chronic air pollution exposure – and a large chunk of this pollution is coming directly from Rio Tinto’s Salt Lake City mining operations.
Utah Moms for Clean Air finds this situation unacceptable as well as unjust.
The air shed belongs to all of us – yet little by little it has been usurped by polluting industries who reap tremendous profits from pumping pollutants into our air. Rio Tinto is the master of this cheating strategy and guess who pays the price – we do.
We thus find it deeply ironic that Rio Tinto would have been chosen by the International Olympic Committee to be a top-tier sponsor of what is being dubbed as the “greenest" games ever. Rio Tinto, to be fair, does embrace many principles of sustainability, but let the truth be told -- they only implement these principles when convenient. More often than not, Rio Tinto bullies, cheats, coerces and steals whatever they need or want to increase their bottom-line. Thankfully, the Olympics do not tolerate this behavior in its athletes. Can you imagine if they did? The Olympics would be a complete sham. Hopefully some day, they will not tolerate this behavior in their sponsors as well.
Founder, Utah Moms for Clean Air