From FAIR to HEAL: Our Journey of Environmental Advocacy in Utah

HEAL Utah's Early History

From FAIR to HEAL: Our Journey of Environmental Advocacy in Utah

In the early 1990s, Utah faced a significant environmental threat from the United States Army. They suggested the disposal of old and leaking bombs, landmines, and missiles containing a deadly nerve agent within our state. At that time, Utah held a staggering 45% of the entire U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons. The Army’s plan involved incinerating this hazardous material at the Tooele Army Depot, located near the towns of Tooele and Grantsville.

News coverage regarding the Tooele Chemical Weapons Incinerator. 

Initially, there was little concern among Utah residents regarding the potential impact of incineration on workers and communities downwind of the Army Depot. However, a group of courageous Grantsville residents began attending hearings, posing challenging questions, and encouraging others to join them. These individuals established a grassroots organization known as Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR). Working alongside whistleblowers from within the Depot, FAIR took legal action against the Army and its contractor. Their efforts led to the relocation of the weapons destruction site away from the population, as well as improvements in safety standards and processes.

Yet, FAIR’s impact extended beyond these achievements. Shortly after its formation, we confronted major polluters in Utah, including Magcorp and the Davis County Garbage Incinerator. These entities were releasing dioxin, a pollutant infamous for its role in the evacuation and abandonment of Times Beach, Missouri, in 1983. FAIR’s campaigns against these polluters were instrumental in raising awareness and pushing for environmental reforms.


Recognizing the multitude of ongoing threats to public health and the environment, these organizers understood the vital role they could play and applied to become an official nonprofit organization, achieving 501(c)(3) status in 1999.

HEAL co-founder and former Executive Director, Jason Groenewold, meets Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.


During their efforts against polluters, FAIR noticed a concerning trend: Utah’s Great Salt Lake desert was increasingly targeted by commercial interests, both local and external, as a potential site for the disposal of the nation’s radioactive waste. This occurred despite Utah never having benefited from nuclear power. In response to this threat from predatory corporations, FAIR broadened its mission and evolved into the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah) in 2001.


Since then, HEAL Utah has been vigilant in identifying major environmental threats to the health and safety of Utah’s citizens and its environment. Consequently, HEAL expanded its mission over the 2000s and 2010s to encompass clean air, renewable energy, and climate change.


Today, HEAL collaborates with grassroots advocates, community groups across Utah, and state and local policymakers to prevent the contamination of Utah’s natural world, which endangers public health. HEAL’s goal is to create a cleaner and healthier future for generations to come.

HEAL Utah Co-Founder Chip Ward speaking at a rally.

See a timeline of HEAL Utah’s achievements and work by visiting our about page, and for insights into HEAL’s early history, explore the book “Canaries on the Rim” authored by our co-founder Chip Ward.

A summary of Canaries on the Rim

In the late 1970s, Chip Ward and his wife left the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch in Capitol Reef National Park to raise their children in the classic small-town American setting of Grantsville, Utah. There, on the edge of the Great Basin Desert, disturbing tales of local sickness and death interrupted an idyllic life. A seven-year quest to understand a hidden history of ecocide followed. Canaries on the Rim is Ward’s firsthand account of that quest and how lessons learned in the wilderness were later applied to building opposition to toxic waste disposal, chemical weapons incineration, industrial pollution, and nuclear waste storage. The secret holocaust that is unfolding along the toxic shadow of America’s Great Basin Desert is grim, but Ward’s colorful and often-humorous story is not. Canaries on the Rim is a warning and a call to arms, but it is also a compelling drama and a lively primer on environmental activism. If civil action took place in Edward Abbey’s West, this is the book that would result.

See Our Impact

Since 1999, we’ve organized, mobilized, and implemented impactful changes in policy and community-driven solutions. Discover our latest achievements in our annual report below.