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Complaints over bad odor cause U.S. Steel to halt cleanup efforts, for now

(Photo Credit: Deseret News. The Former Geneva Steel site is behind Rocky Mountain Power's gas fired plants.)

UTAH COUNTY – It’s been a messy, stinky problem in Utah County for weeks, but, residents in Orem and Vineyard are going to get a break from the bad smell lingering in the air near the old Geneva Steel plant.

U.S. Steel no longer owns the land where the Geneva Steel Mill used to be, however, they are in charge of cleaning it up.  Environmental officials say they had been cleaning up a coal tar pond since November.  The residue had been dumped in one spot from the 1940s to the mid-1980s.

Department of Environmental Quality Spokesman Jared Mendenhall says, “The way they’d been cleaning it up is they go in there, they dig it out and they mix it with cement kiln dust.” That would cause the tar to solidify so it can be transported and placed into a more secure storage area.

However, the DEQ was taken aback by how many complaints they received about the foul smell.  Crews with U.S. Steel were already planning to stop their cleanup efforts over Christmas, but, officials say the stench caused so many complaints, they asked the company to shut down earlier than expected.

“During the coming weeks, negotiate a different plan to address this,” Mendenhall says.

Workers had been wearing sensors on their uniforms, and U.S. Steel set up sensors around the site to see if emissions crossed into dangerous levels.  Mendenhall says they haven’t, yet.

“Just because they are within the limits and they hadn’t crossed that fair/foul line, it doesn’t mean people weren’t experiencing headaches or nausea,” he adds.

Mendenhall says other sensors have been placed closer to residential areas to see if emissions are a public health concern.  Samples from those sensors have not been collected, yet.