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Complaints of bad smell, sickness force plant's closure

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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AMERICAN FORK -- Some people in Utah County have been complaining of a strong smell in the air that's making them sick. Now one business has been ordered to stop operating, even before it began.

Rock Canyon Oil is a used oil re-refinery in American Fork. About six weeks ago, it started the commission process to get everything up and running.

Then on Tuesday, the city issued a "do not operate" order, stopping the process in its tracks -- this after complaints from people in the area.

"It does cause an irritation to your eyes, it does smell like natural gas, and it does make you have a bad headache and makes you feel nauseated," said Terry Anderson, president of TRA-Mage, a company that makes roofing accessories.

Anderson said he can't ignore the problem. His workers have gotten sick more than once in the past three weeks.

On Tuesday, Anderson also noticed brown smoke coming from the Rock Canyon Oil building next door. He said the odor was so bad his building had to be evacuated.

"I'm losing employees for their hours and not getting things accomplished when this happened. I can't operate my business and have it continue," Anderson said.

Fire officials say they're concerned too. Since the end of January, American Fork and Lehi fire departments received 145 calls about the smell of natural gas.

"When we tested the area we found different levels of carbon monoxide outside of their property, and in the plant also," said American Fork Fire Chief Kriss Garcia.

Gary Maxwell, the general manager of Rock Canyon Oil, said there was black smoke above the plant for a few minutes on Tuesday. He said the problem was a failed sensor that workers didn't detect for 20 to 25 minutes, and a one-way valve will easily fix the problem.

"Other than that, we're not aware of anything that would be substantial in any fashion," Maxwell said.

Maxwell added that while people may have smelled something, it's not coming from his plant. He also said the levels of carbon monoxide were minimal and not dangerous.

Maxwell believes a business like his, the first of its kind in the state, is needed.

"By us being here, we can take used oil that could potentially be put in the landfills or mishandled and be able to turn it back into oils that can be reused again," Maxwell said.

Maxwell is meeting with the Department of Environmental Quality, which issues the permits for used oil. He expects the issue to be resolved in the next few days.


Sandra Yi


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