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OGDEN -- The City of Ogden is considering a creative and cost-saving solution to demolishing dozens of dilapidated and vacant homes -- but some worry it's a little too creative and will expose residents to a variety of airborne toxic chemicals.
For years, Ogden has been baffled about what to do with 45 vacant homes along the Ogden River in a section of town known as the Ogden River Project area.
In the last 30 months, the Ogden Fire Department has responded to 17 structure fires in the River Project Redevelopment area.
It's holding up a project to redevelop 60 acres of land occupied by the homes, so move things along, city administration has a new proposal.
Why not burn them down?
"It's great training and this is the right time of year to do it, and we have good clearing index so we're not creating air quality problems for our residents," said Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey.
Firefighters from Ogden and nearby towns could use the fires as a training exercise. Asbestos would be removed beforehand, and three homes a day could be burned, depending on weather.
The city estimates it would save more than $100,000.
"The end result is you end up with less to haul away to your landfills and so it's better for the landfills," Godfrey said. "It lowers emissions and hauling costs for us."
Others say they've got major concerns about air quality and the impact on residents' health of burning all the buildings.
Latest estimates place traditional demolition for the 45 homes at $610,800. The city estimates burning down the structures would cost no more than $545,150.
"These are exactly the sorts of things that will release dioxins, lead, cyanide into the air," said Dr. Peter Clemens, a Democratic candidate for the state legislature in House District 7.
Clemens says chemicals from burning buildings can get into the brain, heart, lungs and placentas of pregnant women.
"Insulation and plastics, stains and paints all of these things will release formaldehyde, dioxins," he said.
Even exposures of less than 24 hours, he says, can lead to health problems up to 30 days later.
"Envision the idea of the community having 45 giant cigarettes and incinerating those cigarettes," Clemens said.
"It really is ridiculous to jeopardize the health of Ogden citizens to save a little bit of money," said Ogden city council member Amy Wicks. "And it's really not saving Ogden City money, it's saving the owner of the property, who really should have been dealing with it."
The mayor insists health risks are minimal.
"Having high air quality is a big deal to me, so there's no way that we're going to do this in a way that would negatively impact us," Godfrey said.
An official with the state Department of Air Quality says the agency doesn't believe burning the homes presents a health risk.
They've given the demolition by incineration the green light.
The Ogden city council is expected to make a final decision within the next couple of months.