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WEST JORDAN -- The West Jordan Fire Department is in the final stages of cleaning up a potential environmental disaster.
Vandals are being blamed for spilling 200 gallons of used motor oil at the edge of the Redwood Memorial Mortuary and Cemetery, located at 6500 S. Redwood Road.
The used oil is stored in 500 gallon drums in a utility building. They normally are sealed off and secure. Thursday night, someone opened a valve on one of the tanks, releasing at least 200 gallons of the toxic fluid. Most of the oil seeped into the ground, but some of it flowed into an irrigation canal at the south end of the cemetery.
West Jordan Fire Department Battalion Chief Rodger Broome said, "Most of the dangers right now are environmental. We're concerned about the vegetation and we're concerned about the soil."
Cleanup started immediately after an irrigation customer noticed oil on the surface of the water in a nearby canal. The oil was traced back to the cemetery.
Hazmat crews placed giant filters in the water. The cemetery staff used heavy machinery to dig out tons of oil-soaked dirt.
The situation frustrated officials at Redwood Memorial Estates since it happened on the eve of the busy Memorial Day weekend. Scott Quist of the cemetery said, "This is a weekend where people come and honor and respect their dead. You don't want anything of this nature to impede their access or to invade the solitude of remembering their loved ones."
At this point, a criminal investigation is up in the air. But police are interested in hearing information related to the case.
In the meantime, Redwood Memorial Estates remains open and unaffected by the spill. "It makes no sense, even if you're a vandal out looking for a little fun," Quist said. "I don't know why you would empty oil into the canal. Nevertheless, it is what it is."
Earlier Friday, Robert Quist, president of the Memorial Cemeteries and Mortuaries, issued the following statement:
"We are very disturbed that this has happened. We immediately notified hazmat officials. We are taking all steps necessary to clean up the area and remove all contamination. As a company, we are very committed to the environment. Over the years we have taken many steps to reduce energy and water consumption at our various locations. We hope to avoid any repeat of this incident."
Hazmat crews say the quick response probably averted a real environmental disaster. They say the cleanup has gone well.
The canal water is used by a number of people to irrigate, and they're all being told not to use the water Friday. The water eventually runs into the Jordan River.
Story compiled with information from Richard Piatt and Randall Jeppesen