Having a Blast With Emergency Permits

Hogs Back near Escalante, Utah

In April, two tourists came upon unexploded mortar rounds in the sand outside of Escalante, Ut.

By Deb Ng

When you think about waste in the desert, your first thoughts are errant beer cans left by campers, or a Snickers wrapper dropped by hikers.

That wasn’t the case in April when travelers happened upon two unexploded mortar rounds in the sand outside of Escalante. From a distance the tourists thought they saw bowling pins sticking out of the dirt. A closer look revealed the explosive truth.

Garfield County Sheriff’s Office was the first to catch wind of the dangerous waste. In turn, they contacted the Bomb Disposal Team from Hill Air Force Base. The bomb squad determined that the best course of action was to detonate the explosives in place. The team would establish a secure perimeter around the shells and then blow up the projectiles using a small charge.

Before they could do that, though, they needed to make a call to the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control for an emergency permit.

Under Utah State Law, the WMRC Director is in charge of issuing temporary emergency permits. This permit allows facilities (or groups) to treat, store, or dispose of explosive waste. In this case it allowed the bomb squad to detonate the shells in place.

Situations like this may seem unusual. The truth is, they are more common than you would think. This year our team has dealt with 24 emergency permits for explosives so far this year. The permits have ranged from dealing with unexploded TNT at a mineshaft in Emery County, to a box of dynamite left in the basement of a Park City miner’s cabin.

With the clock ticking on literal bombs, paperwork might seem like a silly requirement. Understanding the stakes, the WMRC team exemplifies DEQ’s values when dealing with emergency permits—lives depend on it. Exceptional Service, Credibility and Trust, and Continuous Improvement are paramount to effectively and efficiently fulfilling WMRC’s role in dealing with this deadly waste.

After a quick call to WMRC, a permit was secured. Then, the bomb squad went about finishing its job. The area was cleared and the mortar rounds were exploded. Most of the nearby residents didn’t even know what had happened until they saw the TV news coverage. By that time, the public was out of harm’s way and the anonymous employees of the bomb squad and WMRC were on to their next tasks.   

Reduce Reuse RecycleI am the manager at the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control in charge of emergency permits. I love to golf and travel.