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EPA orders MagCorp to protect its workers from potential exposure to hazardous chemical

Release Date: 6/15/2001
Contact Information:
EPA 303-312-6890,

Release Date: 6/15/2001
Contact Information:
EPA 303-312-6051,

Release Date: 6/15/2001
Contact Information:
EPA 303-312-6908,

Release Date: 6/15/2001
Contact Information:
EPA 800-227-8917
DENVER– The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the Magnesium Corporation of America’s (“MagCorp”) plant in Rowley, Utah, to take action to protect some of its workers who may be exposed to extremely high levels of hexachlorobenzene (HCB) resulting in a Hazard Index 70 times the acceptable level. HCB is a probable human carcinogen.

According to a toxicological evaluation and risk assessment report prepared for EPA, MagCorp workers who shovel, watch, supervise or otherwise come in contact with significant amounts of “anode dust” containing HCB in an area called the “courtyard” between buildings 3 and 4 face an increased risk of possible irreversible harm to their livers, lungs and skin. Concentrations of HCB in that area of the facility pose a potential “excess cancer risk” of one in 500. These estimates are based on potential risk associated with long-term exposure, and alone do not indicate that workers have experienced actual harm. However, EPA believes these risks are significant enough to warrant immediate action.

EPA’s order requires MagCorp to:
# Manage anode dust so to prevent human exposure. This includes restricting access to the anode dust box, capturing the dust before it’s released to the environment and placing it in containers;

# Ensure that employees wear personal protective equipment such as full-face respirators and protective clothing when working around the anode dust, and undergo decontamination (showering and changing clothes) before leaving the plant;

# Develop and pay for a medical testing program, available to workers upon request, to assess whether workers have been exposed to contaminants in the dust; and

# Fence and place signs along a ditch system alerting workers to the hazardous posed by the waste in these ditches.

Most Americans have a one-in-four chance of developing some sort of cancer in their lifetime. Added risks, such as from exposures to chemicals in air, water or soil, are expressed as “excess cancer risks.” Those levels are determined through complex calculations that consider the toxicity of the chemical, the “routes” through which people can be exposed and the length of time people are exposed. In residential settings, EPA often requires that contaminated soil be cleaned up to the point where only one excess cancer risk would be expected if a million people were exposed to the levels found in that soil. Industrial workers may experience conditions with higher excess cancer risks.

With chronic exposure to HCB, individuals can develop scarring on the face and hands, enlarged thyroid and lymph nodes, nerve damage and central nervous system dysfunction. Once widely used as a pesticide in the United States, HCB is now mostly found as a by-product of other chemical and pesticide manufacturing. EPA believes that HCB is occurring at this facility as a by-product of magnesium manufacturing. Based on adipose tissue (fat) studies, EPA reported trace amounts of the chemical in 95 percent of the U.S. population in 1979.

While samples of the anode dust also revealed toxic chromium, arsenic, dioxins, and PCBs, EPA’s evaluation didn’t consider those contaminants because the exceptionally high HCB levels were enough to trigger the present enforcement action. The report also noted that total risk for workers would likely be higher if all contaminants and all exposure pathways were considered, and compounded by the chlorine-rich atmosphere in the plant.

The Agency noted that five or six workers typically on each of two daily shifts at the plant spend at least 30 minutes shoveling dust from anode collection boxes into either a sump that carries the waste as a slurry to a series of ditches on the facility’s property or into bags and drums. In January, an EPA inspector observed a visible cloud of dust covering seven to nine people who were near the anode. These workers perform other duties in the plant for the remainder of their shifts and most likely breathe or ingest the contaminated dust from their clothing, absorb it through their skin and possibly spread it elsewhere in the plant.

“We are very concerned about worker exposure to hazardous chemicals and are working closely with Utah health authorities on this situation,” said Rushin. She also noted that EPA was involved in the courtyard at this time because the anode dust may post an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment to which the Agency is responding.

This is the third EPA action against MagCorp in recent months. In January, EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice sued MagCorp, its parent corporation Renco Metals and other related entities in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, seeking penalties and compliance with federal and state environmental laws.

Last October EPA and MagCorp entered into an “order on consent” in which the company agreed to begin a project aimed at cleaning up dioxin and hexachlorobenzene at certain areas on the property, eliminating dioxin emissions from several sources, assessing threats to workers, and taking actions which were expected to reduce its chlorine emissions by about 95 percent. A public comment period for that agreement recently ended and the order could become final soon.

Various documents related to this case can be seen on EPA’s website at: