Utah health department says they removed nearly 300 tons of waste from homeless camps near Jordan River

SALT LAKE COUNTY – As hundreds of homeless people are being forced out of the downtown Salt Lake City area, many are camping out throughout the Salt Lake Valley—posing significant health challenges.

“Recently, during the month of October, we have decided to focus our efforts in and along the Jordan River,” said Jorge Mendez, the Salt Lake County Department of Health's Community Clean Up Coordinator.

On Thursday, Salt Lake County leaders got an update from the health department on the huge effort to clean up homeless encampments along and near the Jordan River.

“We've removed nearly 300 tons of solid waste that was left behind by illegal encampments from individuals experiencing homelessness,” Mendez said.

Mendez said tackling homeless encampments in the county has been part of their job since the mid 90s. But with the launch of Operation Rio Grande in recent months—the crackdown on crime surrounding the downtown shelters—they’ve intensified their efforts on Jordan River camps.

He said they worry about the environmental impacts.

“We want to make sure this water is not contaminated, not tainted... from whether it is feces, urine, just body waste or other chemicals," Mendez said. "We have removed gasoline, petroleum oil, minerals and other chemicals that are very close to the Jordan River. Even if it is 30 yards away from the riverbank, the percolation that can occur can also harm vegetation and the Jordan River.”

Crews have plenty of work ahead of them before they break for winter. Their largest project is north of 3900 South. West Valley City and the Utah Department of Transportation have contributed machines and manpower.

“So it’s been a collaborative effort for sure,” Mendez said.

In the spring, crews will focus their efforts on cleaning up homeless encampment areas in Parleys Canyon.