Health officials say foul odor in Utah County presents no health risks

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VINEYARD — Officials with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality said the foul odor some Utah County residents have complained about is not a health risk and air quality specialists are working to confirm that.

Several people in Orem, Lindon and Vineyard have complained about a strong, noxious odor giving some people headaches over the past few weeks.

“Three weeks to a month ago it was overwhelming,” said Mike King, who works across from the environmental cleanup going on at the site of the former Geneva Steel plant near the Lindon-Vineyard border. He said the smell intensified recently.

“A metallic-y smell,” he said. “But, it’s gotten way stronger over the past three or four months. It has changed from metallic to earthy. It’s just a real stink. In the shop when they had the swamp coolers on, they’ve had to turn them off a couple of times because people were coughing and hacking and getting migraines.”

Officials with the DEQ were confident the odor is not a health risk but said Friday they are working to confirm that.

“For a couple of weeks, there have been complaints about odors that were strong enough to cause nausea and headaches,” said DEQ spokesperson Jared Mendenhall.

Others said it smelled like it did in this area when the steel plant was operating.

“Plasticky… Kind of crappy. Doesn’t smell great,“ said Josh Putnam, who works and lives in the area.

When KSL crews were in the area, they discovered a tar-like, metallic smell while downwind from the old Geneva Steel site.

However, DEQ officials said that’s not the smell that has drawn complaints from residents. The smell that raised concerns and peaked last week was a mothball-like smell.

“The part of the side where we believe the odor is coming from, they’ve stopped work on that,” Mendenhall said.

DEQ officials think the odor is coming from coal tar pits on the Geneva Steel cleanup site. There is naphthalene in that waste product, which smells like mothballs. Until the cleanup was halted, workers were moving that waste into engineered landfills at another location on the site.

Cleanup of the tar pits will resume next week on a limited basis so that air quality can be monitored for one week. DEQ officials said they hope that will give them the data they need to confirm that the odor does not present a health risk and to come up with a plan for the continued clean up that isn’t quite as smelly.

“They’ve stopped work on that part, so they’re not disturbing that part of the site anymore, so that should improve the smell,” Mendenhall said.

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Jed Boal


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