Utah DEQ News

#NoMowDays and Other Ways to Trim Your Grass and Your Emissions

By DEQ Communications Office


Utah Lawnmower emissions infographic

Click for larger view

It’s been a tough summer for air quality. Wildfires and ozone have kept many of us indoors as Utah continues to log “Unhealthy” air days and some of the highest summer ozone readings we’ve seen for a while. So we make fewer trips, take public transit, and telework to reduce our emissions to help improve our air quality.

But most of us don’t think about air pollution when we’re mowing our yards or shopping for new lawn and garden tools. Did you know that lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, and other gasoline-powered lawn equipment produce a lot of air pollution? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gas-powered lawnmowers account for five percent of the air pollution in the United States and contribute even more pollution in urban areas. Five percent!

That number starts to make sense when you look at the statistics:

  • Each weekend, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns, amounting to 800 million gallons of gas per year.
  • The emissions from one four-stroke lawnmower operating for one hour are equivalent to an average vehicle traveling 500 miles.
  • Using a gas-powered mower for one hour produces the same amount of emissions as 11 new cars also running for an hour.
  •  At least 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled annually just filling these lawn mowers.

The good news? Small changes in your choices in lawn equipment and mowing practices can make a big difference.

Go Electric

Trading your gas-powered mower for an electric mower is an easy way to reduce your emissions. Electric mowers have come a long way in recent years. Most models use long-lasting lithium-ion batteries, so you don’t have to fiddle with a cord — or worse, worry about running it! Unlike gas mowers, you don’t have to the change spark plugs, fuel filters, or oil.  Electric mowers are light, easy to use, and quiet. And they don’t emit the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that contribute to ozone. And if you want a good workout, an old-fashioned reel mower gets the job done with zero emissions.

Let It Grow

The taller your grass, the healthier your lawn. There is a direct correlation between the height of the grass and the depth of the roots. If you mow your lawn down to two inches, you will have two inches of roots. If you mow at four inches, you will have four inches of roots. That added root mass will make your lawn more drought- and disease-resistant, provide natural weed control, and reduce the amount of water you need to keep your lawn healthy.

Upgrade Your Gas Can

The Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) held a gas can exchange in 2016 that had people lining up to trade their old, polluting gas can for an EPA-approved one.

You may not realize it, but the type of gas can you use can make a big difference in your VOC emissions. If you use an older gas can, vapors can permeate the walls and fumes can escape when you dispense fuel. That 17 million gallons of gas spilled annually? Older cans are a part of the problem. And even when you aren’t using your mower, VOCs can escape from secondary vent holes and inadequately capped spouts on these older cans.

New gas cans, on the other hand, provide an automatic shut-off feature to prevent overfilling and an automatic closing feature to prevent VOCs from leaking when the can isn’t in use. Thicker walls reduce vapor permeation, and the elimination of secondary venting holes prevents spills and fumes. Newer EPA-approved gas cans are relatively inexpensive and can make a big dent in VOC emissions.

Mow in the Evening

Ground-level ozone is formed when the VOCs and NOx combine with sunlight. If you fill your gas tank or mow your the lawn in the morning, you put ozone-forming emissions into the air during the “prime time” for ozone to form. If you mow your lawn after 7 p.m., you give ozone-forming chemicals a chance to dissipate overnight. Once the sun starts to set, reduced daylight makes ozone formation more difficult. Evening winds can also disperse ozone and reduce pollution levels for the following morning.

Take More #NoMowDays

If the air quality is bad, skip mowing altogether. If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to NOT mow your lawn (and haven’t we all?), here it is! Check ozone levels on our website or the Utah Air App on your iOs or Android mobile device. You can also check the three-day forecast to see if you should mow today — or wait — based on projected weather conditions and air pollution levels.

Small changes can make a big difference! While we can’t stop the wildfire smoke or stagnant air conditions, we can change our behaviors to reduce emissions and help our air quality. To learn more about green lawn-and-garden products, visit the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) website and select Choose Green for more information.

Lincoln Marina and Lincoln Beach Closed Again due to Harmful Algal Bloom

Lincoln South Beach. Click for a larger view.

The Utah County Health Department (UCHD) has closed Lincoln Marina and Lincoln Beach after test results showed very high cyanobacteria cell counts and high microcystin levels from a persistent harmful algal bloom that has plagued the area for much of the summer. A Warning Advisory for the rest of the lake remains in place.

Lab results for samples collected on August 6 and 8, 2018, show very high cyanobacteria cell counts at Lincoln Marina (approximately 42 million cells per milliliter (cells/ml)  and Lincoln Beach (approximately 15 million cells/ml) along with elevated microcystin levels at both locations. High microcystin levels were also found at Sandy Beach and Provo Boat Harbor.

Cyanobacteria cell counts at Lincoln Marina and Lincoln Beach exceed the recreation health-based threshold for a Danger Advisory. Cell counts at Sandy Beach, Swedes Access, and Utah Lake State Park north of the dike exceed the recreation health-based threshold for a Warning Advisory.

Microcystin levels were quite high at some shoreline locations and twice the recommended recreation health-based threshold in one open water sample. Microcystin levels ranged from 97 micrograms per liter (µg/L) at Lincoln Marina to 8.2 µg/L at the buoy one mile from the Utah Lake State Park. Anatoxin-a levels were relatively low, but samples from the Utah Lake State Park, two miles west of Vineyard, outside Provo Bay, and one mile southeast of Bird Island exceeded the recreation health-based threshold for a Warning Advisory.

Lincoln South Beach

Danger Advisory for Lincoln Marina/Lincoln Beach

A Danger Advisory indicates a high relative probability of acute health risk, cell count densities greater than 10,000,000 cells/ml, microcystins levels greater than 2,000 µg/L, cylindrospermopsin levels greater than 8 µg/L, or anatoxin-a levels greater than 90 µg/L.   Closure of the waterbody is recommended.

Warning Advisory for Utah Lake

A Warning Advisory indicates a moderate relative probability of acute health risk, cell-count density of 20,000 – 10 million cells per milliliter (cells/ml), microcystin levels of 4-2,000 micrograms per liter (µg/L), or anatoxin-a levels above non-detect. Advisory actions:

  • Do not swim or water ski
  • Do not ingest the water
  • Keep pets and livestock away
  • Clean fish well and discard guts
  • Avoid areas of scum when boating

For more information, visit habs.utah.gov

Radon Testing on Goshute Reservation Helps Improve Tribal Health

Native Americans and tribal populations suffer disproportionately from poor indoor air quality. So when I was asked to participate in environmental testing at the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (CTGR) in May 2018, I knew it would be a great opportunity to raise awareness among tribal members about the adverse health effects of radon gas. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and exposure to the odorless gas inside homes is a serious issue for many tribal and rural communities.

Newly installed mitigation system. Photo courtesy of Radovent.

The Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah and the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational Health, University of Utah, were the lead organizations for the testing program. Huntsman Cancer also participated, and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was asked to oversee the indoor-radon testing component.

Radon isn’t the only contaminant that poses a health risk to tribal members living at CTGR. Tribal communities and many other communities in rural Utah face environmental challenges posed by a desert landscape that contains naturally high metal concentrations, geologic formations that emit radon, and limited infrastructure.

Residents participating in the voluntary environmental testing program had their homes and yards tested for specific pollutants:

  • Particulate matter levels, both indoor and outdoor, can be high because most families at the CTGR heat their homes with wood stoves.
  • Soils can contain heavy metals like lead and arsenic.
  • Lead, carbon monoxide, and radon can be present at high levels in the ambient air. Without testing, there’s no way to know for sure.

Radon Testing Process

Continuous radon monitor

We met with the Tribal Board several times and asked if there were residents who were willing to do the entire environmental test suite. Seventeen residents volunteered, but only 11 were available on the day we tested.

DEQ tested these 11 homes as well as the Tribal Headquarters for radon. We discovered that five of the 11 homes had elevated radon levels. We verified those results using DEQ’s continuous radon monitors, which measure radon in real-time. The homes we re-tested continued to show elevated levels.

I reached out to a certified radon mitigator and asked if his company, Radovent, would be willing to install two mitigation systems, and he said yes. I then met with the CTGR Building Code Commission/Board to explain what a mitigation system is, how it works, etc.  At the end of the meeting, the Board gave us the go-ahead, and on August 9, 2018, Radovent installed mitigation systems pro-bono for two residents on the CTGR.

We hope to train two to three CTGR tribe members to install these mitigation systems. This training will empower tribe members to take charge of indoor radon testing and mitigation in their community.

The CTGR Building Code Commission/Board has asked us to test all 350 residences on the reservation. DEQ will be working with the tribe and EPA Regions 9 and 10 to ensure this happens. We hope to arrange for the installation of two more free mitigation systems along with additional training on the systems. The Director of the Building Code group is requesting funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help with the installation of mitigation systems.

Collaboration and Outreach

Certified radon mitigation company Radovent volunteered to install mitigation systems in two of the homes that had elevated levels of radon.

Residents were initially concerned when they discovered radon levels in some of the homes were five times higher than the EPA action level of 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). I was glad I was there to talk to them and address their concerns. An instructor at a training told residents they needed to move out of their homes until the levels were brought down, which is not true.  I was able to reassure tribal members by providing them with accurate information on actual, not perceived, risks.

Building relationships with tribal members is key to the continued success of the environmental testing program at CTGR. While it took some time to explain why we were there and why a mitigation company would install two systems for free, we were eventually able to gain the community’s trust and build partnerships to support continued testing. We hope that a CTGR representative will attend our EPA Region 8 Radon Conference in April 2019 and possibly make a presentation about the work we’re doing together to improve indoor air quality at the CTGR.

I have enjoyed working with members of the CTGR and am happy we were able to test their homes, particularly since close to half had elevated levels. These numbers are not unusual, as approximately one in two homes in the south part of the Salt Lake Valley also test high for radon. Rural and tribal communities face special challenges, though, with testing and mitigation, and we believe this program is an important first step in reaching out to people living in remote areas of Utah.

I look forward to our continued relationship with the CTGR tribal community as we work together to ensure every home there is a healthy home.

Have you tested YOUR home yet? We have $9 test kits available for Utah residents. Testing is easy, and you’ll get your results back quickly. Always use a certified mitigator if you have elevated levels of radon in your home. If you have further questions, please call me at (801) 536-0091.


 I have worked in the radon field for 15 years, most recently as the Radon Coordinator for the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control. I enjoy being outdoors with my family and golden retriever.

Utah Lake under a Warning Advisory for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

Utah Lake

Lincoln Marina, Utah Lake. Click for larger view.

The Utah County Health Department has issued a Warning Advisory for harmful algal blooms (HABs) for all of Utah Lake. High cyanobacteria cell counts and toxin exceedances at locations on the east and west sides of the lake support satellite imagery showing that the bloom is now lakewide.

Cyanobacteria cell count densities in samples collected on July 30 and 31, 2018, exceeded the recreation health-based threshold in all but two sampling sites. Cell counts were especially high at Sandy Beach (over 2.5 million cells per milliliter (cells/ml), Lincoln Marina (over 6.5 million cells/ml), and Saratoga Springs Marina (over 1.4 million cells/ml).

Toxin test results from the Utah Public Health Lab (UPHL) showed microcystin levels >5 micrograms per liter (µg/L) at Sandy Beach, Lincoln Marina, and the Saratoga Springs Marina. These levels exceed the recreational health-based threshold for microcystin. UPHL will conduct additional dilutions/testing to determine the actual levels of microcystin since the toxin concentrations are greater than the upper limits of the test.

DWQ monitoring crews have visited the lake several times this week. Data from these latest samples should be available early next week.

Warning Advisory for Utah Lake

Satellite imagery shows the Utah Lake bloom spreading across the entire lake. Portions in red and dark red indicate high cyanobacteria cell counts

A Warning Advisory indicates a moderate relative probability of acute health risk, cyanobacteria cell-count density of 20,000 – 10 million cells per milliliter (cells/ml), microcystin levels of 4-2,000 micrograms per liter (µg/L), or anatoxin-a levels above non-detect. Advisory actions:

  • Do not swim or water ski
  • Do not ingest the water
  • Keep pets and livestock away
  • Clean fish well and discard guts
  • Avoid areas of scum when boating

Oil and Water Don’t Mix: The Price River Crude Oil Spill

By Kevin Okleberry


Responders set up booms to contain oil spilled into the Price River. Click for larger view.

On the evening of July 12, 2018, a truck hauling crude oil crashed on the bridge over the Price River at US Highway 6 just north of Carbonville near Price, Utah.  The accident caused a spill of up to 4,000 gallons of crude oil onto the road surface, which flowed across the bridge and into a storm drain that led directly to the river.  As many as 1,000 gallons of crude oil were estimated to have flowed into the river, creating the potential for significant long-term environmental impacts downstream.

Yet in just over a week, the river had been almost completely cleaned up with relatively little impact to surrounding plants, wildlife, and downstream users.  How was this possible?  One answer is the excellent coordination among different government agencies: representatives of DEQ, the Southeast Utah Health Department, the Carbon County Hazardous Materials team, and the US Environmental Protection Agency quickly responded and began working together with the trucking company’s contractor to clean up the mess.

Another answer lies in the nature of the crude oil that is produced in the Uinta Basin and surrounding areas of eastern Utah.  This crude oil has interesting properties which make cleanup of spills relatively easy and quick.

As the old saying goes, oil and water don’t mix. This is due to the different characteristics of their chemical bonds.  In addition, oils and other natural hydrocarbons are less dense than water and will form a thin layer on the top, creating a visible rainbow “sheen” on the surface when light strikes them (you can see examples of this phenomenon while walking through a parking lot after a rainstorm).

Crude oil is a mixture of many different types of hydrocarbons, and in most major spills it will form giant, messy slicks on the surface of the water that contaminate anything that happens to come into direct contact with it.  One only has to remember the Red Butte Creek pipeline break, or the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to visualize what can happen when a large amount of crude oil hits the water.


Globules form on rocks. Click for larger view.

Uinta Basin crude oil, which is found in eastern Utah rock formations dating from around 50-60 million years ago, is what is called a “paraffinic” crude oil:  it contains a large percentage of hydrocarbon compounds that are chemically similar to those found in candle wax.  And like candle wax, Uinta Basin crude hardens into a solid at ambient temperatures and has to be heated above a certain temperature in order to exist as a liquid.  The colder the temperature, the harder it solidifies, and as it solidifies it “locks in” smaller, lighter compounds dissolved in the oil which could be released and contaminate the water.

Uinta Basin crude oil has been described as “cleanup friendly”.  Instead of forming a giant slick on the surface of the water, it forms what can best be described as a giant licorice stick in the water.  Clumps of the oil will break off with the current and float downstream, but they can be easily captured by booms and other barriers.  More importantly, as Uinta Basin crude does not readily form a sheen on the surface, it tends to not spread out and contaminate a larger area.

This is what happened in the Price River spill.  As the crude oil spilled onto the road surface, it began to harden, so a smaller amount of the oil spilled from the trailer actually made it into the river.  And when the oil hit the river, it solidified, effectively locking it in place and preventing it from spreading far downstream.  The cleanup company hired by the owners of the truck was able to capture most of the oil with its downstream booms, and then pick up the rest along the riverbanks.

Sampling the Price River following the spill.

Water samples collected the next day by the Division of Water Quality contained only a small amount of hydrocarbon compounds in the water, which rapidly dissipated farther downstream.  After the cleanup was completed a week later, none of the water samples collected from the Price River contained any detectable amounts of oil or other hydrocarbons, confirming that the cleanup was complete and the river was back to the way it was before the spill.

Accidental oil spills are an unfortunate by-product of Utah’s petroleum industry.  Fortunately, thanks to the nature of the crude oil produced in the state, most of these spills can be easily cleaned up afterward.  The Division of Water Quality will continue to respond to these incidents and work with other agencies to clean up discharges of pollutants that threaten Utah’s public waters and take appropriate enforcement action when necessary to help prevent future spills.

To learn more about the Price River oil spill, including cleanup efforts following the spill, visit our web page to see the daily updates we posted during the spill response and cleanup.


I have a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from Weber State University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health and a Master’s degree in Toxicology from Utah State University.  I have been a Licensed Environmental Health Scientist for over 21 years.  In addition to working for Salt Lake County and DEQ, I have taught chemistry courses at Salt Lake Community College for the past 8 years.  In my spare time, I enjoy the outdoors with my wife and children.

Peck Rock and Products, LLC Saratoga Springs Landfill

Update September 30, 2009 (3 p.m.)

Work Completed at Peck Rock Landfill

Open House

Date: Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Time: 4:00 to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Saratoga City Hall, 1307 North Commerce, Suite 200

Residents who have questions or are interested in hearing more about the cleanup at the Peck Rock Landfill are invited to drop by for an informal open house. The DEQ Project Manager and toxicologist will be in attendance, along with representatives from Utah County Health and the Saratoga Fire Department.

Update September 24, 2009 (5 p.m.)

Corrective measures taken on the landfill site are complete. DEQ plan to coordinate an available and informal walk-in open house where interested residents can come by within a given time frame and ask questions or raise any issues they feel still remain. We will post that information here and announce it in several other venues, once a date has been firmly set. In the mean time, we wanted to provide an update.

The smoldering material has been excavated. The owners brought in many truck loads of clay to compact the surface. The clay layer is a few feet deep, compacted, and has been worked-up the sides. Ordinary soil was then brought in and packed on top of the clay. Packing the side walls sealed-off any potential rain water from running down the wall face. The site now looks bowl-shaped.

During the original assessment, EPA mentioned the possibility of returning to do further air sampling. The EPA, however, has those plans currently on hold unless further issues are raised either by the data validation results or by the neighborhood. Originally, the additional sampling was envisioned once work was complete to address any concerns about lingering problems. However, by the time the EPA Project Manager left town, they were 99.9% sure there weren’t any. Remaining work has been on-going and monitored by the DEQ. Now that the work is completed, EPA is “as near 100% certain that no further sampling is needed. During regular site inspections by the DEQ, there has been nothing in the way of sight or smell that has indicated a rekindling of burning construction garbage from the landfill pit.

The plan to pursue no further air sampling is based on a couple of things. When the “event” was on-going, local and federal authorities not only smelled the strong odor coming from the pit, but detected organic levels in the air monitoring (the Area RAEs) and saw hot spots using thermal imaging. As the Peck Rock owners did their work, the smells dissipated, and detections on the Area RAEs dropped to zero, and the thermal imaging also decreased to nothing. By the end of a 36-hour round-the-clock, real-time air monitoring campaign ending on Tuesday, August 18th, there were almost all “zero readings” across the board on the EPA’s air monitoring instruments; no odors, no smells, and no hot spots. If there were any readings above zero, they were miniscule and insignificant. In the EPA’s judgment, whatever was smoldering had gone out. The continued site monitoring by the DEQ since then has only reinforced the decision of considering no further air monitoring. The EPA points out that it is hard to justify the expense when there are no signs of an active problem. However, should a need be determined, the EPA could re-mobilize to the site and sample.

EPA and DEQ are still awaiting data validation results. This admittedly is a cumbersome and bureaucratic process. Once a request is made and data submitted, it is out of EPA’s hands. By design, this validation process must be independent so as to be impartial.) As a reminder, this analysis is being done to confirm-or-not-that the problem has indeed been taken care of.

Update September 14, 2009 (3 p.m.)

Landfill owners covered and sealed the areas of concern with clay and soil. DEQ walk-throughs at the site, about twice a week, have not revealed signs or smells indicating a rekindling of the burning. Covering and packing the excavated areas appears to have resolved the problem.

DEQ is now awaiting EPA laboratory data validation from air sample results taken in August. This is a process to verify that proper quality control and procedures were followed. Once the lab data validation results are received, an availability session will be scheduled at Saratoga Springs City Hall so that residents may ask questions.

Update August 27, 2009 (2 p.m.)

The Peck Rock landfill continues to make progress as workers cover the pit with soil. A crew of 4-to-5 people works on it daily. The Department of Environmental Quality is monitoring its progress, and continues to work with Peck Rock owners to ensure that there is good soil coverage and proper compaction.

Truck crews continue to haul in soil and dump it along the west rock wall. The rock face (west wall) is now mostly covered with soil. The pit is now taking on more of a “bowl-shaped” look. Crews working in the pit are pushing up soil along the side wall edges and packing it in—mainly so that future rain doesn’t run straight down the rock face and work its way down into the buried trash.

Update August 25, 2009 (12 p.m.)

Work Progresses on Landfill Near Saratoga Springs

The Peck Rock landfill continues to bring soil to add more cover over the area that was emitting odors. The pit is almost half the depth it was before excavation of the smoldering material began. Heavy machinery continues to work and compact new soil on the bottom of the pit and upwards along the side walls to seal off any potential air pockets or water routes that could find their way into the buried construction debris. The site continues to receive oversight from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality personnel who stay in touch with the landfill owners almost daily.

Update August 20, 2009 (5 p.m.)

Air Sampling Results Verified: Levels Safe Near Homes

The results of residential air sampling reliably demonstrate that the chemical compounds in the air around the homes are below levels of concern, based on the preliminary data. Scientists, deploying “real time” monitors that run all day, did not detect any chemical compounds of concern. Scientists may revisit the site and conduct more air sampling after the cleanup is complete.

Meanwhile, the landfill operator has applied several feet of packed clay to the bottom of the pit. Soil is being trucked in to distribute over the packed clay, which will act as a buffer to keep the clay moist underneath. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality continues to oversee the operations.

Update August 17, 2009 (5 p.m.)

Latest Air Sampling Results: Levels Lower at Homes Nearby

Scientists will need several days to complete quality assurance tests on the results of residential sampling, but a preliminary review of data found nothing that would indicate an immediate health risk to area residents. Results are being closely reviewed and will be ready for public release later this week.

The situation has improved as landfill workers continue to snuff out any “hot spots,” which has helped minimize the odors that officials say are more a nuisance than a health risk. The clean-up operation has moved from excavating smoldering material to compacting the remaining trash and applying a soil cover and a several-foot thick clay cap. The move will help ensure that the debris piles will not reignite in the future.

The exact cause and make-up of the odors reported by residents may not be determined. However, Scott Everett, toxicologist with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), explained that just because an odor is present, it doesn’t necessarily mean the odor has harmful levels of chemicals associated with it. Environmental scientists have been testing for the 25-30 hazardous chemicals which are common when wood and plastics burn. Real time (meaning 24-hour a day, ongoing) monitoring at strategic locations at the landfill is continuing. No hazardous chemicals are being registered by the monitors. If anything changes, the monitors will immediately pick it up.

Over the weekend, a second hot spot was detected in the southwest area of the landfill. This has been removed. Thermal imaging is being used to detect other potential problem areas. Nothing is being found.

Once all clean-up activities are completed, another round of sampling will be done to evaluate the site.

Update August 13, 2009 (3 p.m.)

Preliminary Results In; Additional Air Quality Samples Being Taken on Homes Nearby

EPA will begin neighborhood air sampling this evening to determine if the elevated chemical levels measured at the landfill cell are making their way over to the residences. The push will be to do ambient (outdoor) air monitoring in the areas where the smells appear to be the most concentrated and then move further down hill, as necessary. Samples will also be taken in several homes where residents have reported impacts.

Air sampling will be ongoing for 12-24 hours at each monitoring location. Results should be available early next week. EPA, DEQ, and Utah County Health Department will evaluate the results and decide if any additional actions, or more air monitoring, are needed.

Currently, debris from the suspected “hot spot” generating the odors is being spread out into several layers, with each layer covered with clean dirt before another layer is spread out. The goal is to minimize the odors and keep oxygen out of the debris pile so it will not reignite in the future.

Update August 12, 2009

Landfill owners continue to excavate from the pit, removing underground smoldering construction and demolition trash.

DEQ, Utah County Health Department, and EPA will meet tomorrow at the site to assess the situation and determine when and where to conduct air sampling in the Saratoga Hills neighborhood that is downhill from landfill.

Update August 11, 2009

Preliminary results from tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed elevated levels of eight chemicals at a landfill cell where buried material is smoldering. These include:

These are chemicals common when wood and plastics burn.

State toxicologists are looking at the results and comparing them to several health based, risk screening models used for air quality and Superfund work. Their preliminary impression is that the numbers do not pose an immediate health risk to residents in the area. Air quality samples at several residences will be taken to ensure that is the case and if not, to determine what additional steps are needed.

Scott Everett, Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Toxicologist, explained that his main concern is always where people are living in relation to where the high samples are measured. In this case, the greatest concern would have been if homes were directly on top of the spot where the highest concentrations were found. Homes are at least 100 yards away, and once these particular chemicals hit the atmosphere, they quickly disperse within a very short distance. For this reason, Everett is not recommending emergency steps. However, he recognizes citizen concerns and does not dismiss the accounts of those who experience symptoms they attribute to the landfill odors. For this reason, DEQ, Utah County Health, and EPA have agreed to further tests to measure any concentrations in the residential area.

Parents who are concerned about possible impacts to their children’s health may take the precaution of keeping windows closed. Be aware that swamp coolers pull in outside air, so the smells may be pulled into the house.

Meanwhile, the landfill owner continues to remove the smoldering debris in the pit. Crews first concentrated on the perimeter of the pit where the odor was strongest before moving onto the center area of the pit. The odors have been described as a burning plastic smell from chemicals that can irritate the eyes and throat.

On August 1, DEQ received a complaint about an odor that appeared to be coming from the vicinity of the Peck Rock landfill. The Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control (DWMRC) responded because it issues a permit to Peck Rock to operate a construction waste landfill. DEQ has been coordinating with EPA, Utah County Health Department, Saratoga Springs Fire Department, and the landfill’s owner to mitigate the source of the odor.

On August 4, officials determined the odor was coming from cracks in the perimeter of the construction landfill pit. The odor appears to be stronger in the late evening and early morning hours, depending on wind conditions. People impacted are advised to take precautions by closing windows and shutting off swamp coolers. Sensitive people, such as asthmatics, are advised to stay indoors when the odor is most troublesome.

Further updates will be posted on the DEQ Website. For more information, contact Matt Sullivan, (801) 538-6858.