© 2024 KPCW

Spencer F. Eccles Broadcast Center
PO Box 1372 | 460 Swede Alley
Park City | UT | 84060
Office: (435) 649-9004 | Studio: (435) 655-8255

Music & Artist Inquiries: music@kpcw.org
News Tips & Press Releases: news@kpcw.org
Volunteer Opportunities
General Inquiries: info@kpcw.org
Listen Like a Local Park City & Heber City Summit & Wasatch counties, Utah
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘People are getting sick’: Midway residents voice fears about treatment ponds

Dr. Alejandra Maldonado, center, leads a public hearing about Midway's wastewater treatment ponds Feb. 27.
Grace Doerfler / KPCW
Dr. Alejandra Maldonado, center, leads a public hearing about Midway's wastewater treatment ponds Feb. 27.

The smell of the Heber Valley’s wastewater treatment plant bothers its neighbors, but they also worry the ponds could be harming their health.

Several dozen Midway residents gathered Tuesday night, Feb. 27, to tell a state toxicologist what it’s like living next to the valley’s wastewater treatment ponds.

“The biggest, worst thing in our valley is the lagoons,” Rachel Blossey said.

She lives across from the ponds, and she's among those in the valley who worry the stench from the Heber Valley Special Service District isn’t just a nuisance but a potential health hazard.

The public hearing came after the Wasatch County Health Department reached out to Utah’s Department of Health and Human Services. On Tuesday, state representatives came to learn more.

Midway residents described odors disrupting daily life and gastrointestinal symptoms they correlate with being near the ponds.

Kristy Councill said she and her three daughters all got sick last spring when the smells were at their worst.

“You would wake up in the middle of the night with it just infusing your home,” she said. “You can’t smell viruses… They’re too small. But we do smell the feces.”

Kate Roberts said living near the ponds – which are along the Provo River near the Legacy Bridge – has made her family consider moving out of Midway.

“We love Midway, but frankly, we are concerned about the health and safety of our kids, our families, our neighbors,” she said. “It’s not just the smell. It’s not just the odor. It’s [that] people are getting sick.”

Toxicologist Alejandra Maldonado is part of Utah’s Environmental Epidemiology Program. Her team is conducting a risk assessment primarily for levels of hydrogen sulfite emitted by the ponds, a toxin with a rotten-egg smell. Previously, HVSSD staff have registered it using a gas detector.

Human waste is one source of hydrogen sulfite. Certain levels of exposure can cause symptoms like headaches, fatigue and respiratory problems.

Maldonado said they will take air samples around the treatment facility next. She said it’s important to note her team is asked to provide expertise when there’s a potential environmental hazard – the onus is on other agencies to conduct studies based on their findings.

“We’re a health agency, we’re not a regulatory agency,” she said. “We do risk assessments, which is what we’re trying to do here, and we can only provide recommendations based on the results of that risk assessment.”

Maldonado plans on air sampling this spring when pond odors are worst. From there, the HVSSD and the Wasatch County Health Department will use the state’s guidance to figure out how to move forward.

Residents can submit complaints and symptoms to the state through a new website. Updates about the risk assessment will also be added to the site.

Maldonado said she expects to meet with residents again in the spring.