Canaries in the Utah desert

  • Cover of "Canaries on the Rim"

  Twenty-seven years ago, Chip Ward and his wife, Linda, left the East Coast to explore the West. Impressed with the desert's stark beauty, the Wards decided to settle permanently in rural Utah. Little did they know that Grantsville, the sleepy town they chose to call home, sits right in the middle of one of the country's worst toxic dumping grounds. In his new book, Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West, Ward recounts his slow awakening to the environmental hazards at his back door.


Two toxic waste incinerators, a hazardous waste landfill, a radioactive waste landfill, a bombing range and a magnesium refinery are all within blowing distance of Grantsville. The essay-style chapters in Canaries tell how these under-regulated industries and the military take advantage of isolated and job-hungry communities on the rim of the Great Basin.


Ward writes of workers at Dugway Proving Ground, the Army's chemical weapons testing site, who routinely encountered nerve gas, and of the testing mishaps that exposed surrounding residents to unknown quantities of the agent.


A health survey conducted by Ward and his neighbors revealed strikingly high rates of cancer, birth defects and respiratory disease in Grantsville.


Canaries also tells how citizens are fighting back. Local groups recently stopped a new incinerator, and forced testing and emissions improvements at Magcorp's dioxin-laden facility. Ward's Canaries is a powerful and hopeful warning for us all: "If we burn and bury to avoid the implications of our behavior altogether, then the consequences will eventually be on your doorstep as well as mine."


Chip Ward will be on tour to discuss his book on the following dates: In Colorado, Feb. 15, 7:30 pm, Tattered Cover, Denver; Feb. 16, 7:30 pm, Boulder Bookstore, Boulder; Feb. 17 in Pueblo, (Sierra Club), 719/501-3117; Feb. 19 at Books by the Bridge in Pueblo; and Feb. 21 at Page One Books in Albuquerque, N.M.


*Ali Macalady