Health and environmental inspectors will investigate foul smell in Orem; old steel plant may be the culprit

OREM, Utah — Inspectors with the Utah County Health Department and Utah Department of Environmental Quality are preparing to investigate a foul smell that has been plaguing people in Orem for weeks.

People who live in the area have reported the smell being especially bad the last few days, giving some people nausea and headaches. The smell disappeared on Monday, but residents said it is common for the odor to leave and then come back.

The city of Orem suspects the smell may be coming from the old Geneva steel plant on Geneva Road, a now shut-down facility that was set up during World War II to support war efforts.

“It smelled like chemicals — kind of like nail polish and medicine. It was really really weird. Kind of like paint that hadn’t set yet,” said Kendall McMoore, who lives in the area with her husband and newborn son. “I don’t know where it comes from, but hopefully it just doesn’t come back!”

McMoore said she rushed her newborn inside as soon as she smelled the odor due to potential health concerns.

“It smelled toxic kind of. Very bitter. Just unfamiliar. I’ve never smelled it before,” said Misty Decker, who lives in the area. “It was definitely an unpleasant smell, and it should go away.”

Jared Mendenhall, a spokesperson for UDEQ, said the department has been overseeing the cleanup of the Geneva steel plant for several years through the Resource Conservation Recovery Act.

“We don’t have an idea right now where (the smell) is coming from. The report had that there had been some work done on an old slag pile that was on the property,” Mendenhall said. “Slag is a byproduct of the steel production…. We’ll probably start looking there.”

The department received a complaint about the smell for the first time on Friday after normal business hours, Mendenhall said. Investigators will begin inspecting the property after the Veterans Day holiday.

Some people said they would have liked the department to investigate sooner. Others said they were not as concerned, especially now that the smell seems to have, at least for now, vanished.

“Last night I did wake up with a stomach ache, a really bad stomach ace. It’s gone now but… I am a little concerned it’s something that they’ve known about that’s maybe making us sick,” Decker said.

“It’s a little nauseous,” said Robert Hallum, who works in Orem. “Gave me a little bit of a headache.”

Despite multiple reports of people feeling sick, Mendenhall said UDEQ has not received any reports of people having to go to the hospital or see a doctor as a result of the headaches or nausea.

“Without having done the investigation, we can’t really tell you what’s going on there,” Mendenhall said. “Starting tomorrow, we’ll take a look at it, and we’ll be assisting the Utah County Health Department investigating what the source of this odor is and the best way to mitigate that.”

UDEQ encourages anyone who sees or smells something strange to please report it as quickly as possible before it gets worse by calling the UDEQ spill hotline at (801) 536-4123.

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