SALT LAKE CITY — Scott Woodruff sometimes bikes from his West Valley City home to his job at a downtown Salt Lake City architectural firm. He not only gets great exercise, but does his part for the environment.
But sometimes, he’s found, the environment in West Valley City doesn’t return the favor. If the day’s right and the wind’s right, he can be hit by a “horrific stench,” Woodruff says.
Once, “I had to stop and pull over and get off my bike," he said. "It was so bad I thought I was going to throw up.”
He’s also encountered the smell in other parts of West Valley City, he says — at Rocky Mountain Raceway or at his sister’s house near 5600 West, even at West Valley’s Centennial Park and the Costco parking lot.
Calling himself a “proud resident of West Valley City,” where he moved over two years ago, Woodruff has taken on the task of solving the problem. About a year ago, he spoke at a West Valley City Council meeting — but despite promises no one ever got back with him, he says.
Woodruff said he will make another attempt at the council's Tuesday meeting.
“Everyone I’ve talked to smells it, too,” Woodruff said.
Mostly, he smells it in the lower part of West Valley City when the wind blows from the northwest—from the direction of the Salt Lake Valley Landfill. He asked a worker there, who told him it's not the landfill, but a nearby company recently set up to process waste from portable outhouses.
That’s close, but not quite the case, said Salt Lake County recycling coordinator, Ashlee Yoder, who has an office out there. She agrees the smell is “definitely not the landfill,” but it's not a port-a-potty company either. Rather, the smell emanates from a nearby company known as ET Technologies, Yoder said.
“It’s pretty obvious.”
If so, the smell is hardly new. The company set up operations in 1984 to process wastes that then-new federal regulations had prohibited from going directly into landfills.
ET Technologies is a for-profit company, but it operates on 40 acres at the western end of the landfill’s property under agreement with its co-owners, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. And both the landfill and ET’s operation are within the boundaries of Salt Lake City — not West Valley City, according to a county map.
Company vice-president Ted Sonnenburg acknowledges that ET's operation produces its share of odor, but it’s doing all it can to alleviate it, he says. And other nearby facilities may contribute as well, he added — such as the landfill itself, a water treatment plant and a composting operation.
ET processes bio-solid waste from area water treatment facilities, petroleum waste from automotive shop sumps and other forms of waste, Sonnenburg said.
The material is treated, dried, laid out into long piles, or windrows, and periodically turned in order to leaven the brew with oxygen. Bacteria within the waste break down its hazardous chemicals — a process that takes several months.
And all of the company’s end product then goes to the county landfill free of charge, Sonnenburg said. ET makes its money by charging fees to its “incoming waste stream” producers.
“The processing that ET does has to take place some way,” Yoder noted. Besides processing such waste so it can be safely disposed, the landfill needs the product to help grow erosion-preventing vegetation in its clay-heavy soil.
The company spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on odor reduction, Sonnenburg said, including mixing odor-reducing chemicals into the waste and an odor control system around its perimeter.
Additionally, they try not to “push out” material in windy conditions, and an odor-reduction consultant visits every three months to tweak the odor-reduction system, Sonnenburg added.
“Unfortunately with bio-solid waste, it’s a material that inherently has an odor.”
The problem now is that with encroaching development there are more residents nearby who notice, and complain, about the smell, Yoder said.
“We put these things a ways away from people purposefully.”
A similar smell issue arose for the Trans-Jordan landfill in South Jordan about three years ago, when housing developments began sprouting nearby, says that landfill’s general manager, Dwayne Woolley.
New move-ins to Kennecott Land’s Daybreak and other residential developments began complaining of the smell caused by Trans-Jordan drying and mixing waste treatment sludge into the compost it sells to homeowners and others.
“It’s a little like moving by a horse barn and then complaining about the smell of horses,” Woolley said.
But to keep peace in the neighborhood, Trans-Jordan quit using the sludge, which it had been getting from the South Valley Water Reclamation Center in West Jordan, Woolley said. Instead, the landfill began making a non bio-solid compost, with no effect on its bottom line. And while the quality is not quite “premium,” as it was before, it is still good, he said.
But the water treatment facility had to add additional processing steps to its operation, and install additional equipment, which may have put upward pressure on sewage rates, Woolley said.
The Trans-Jordan Landfill is a joint operation of seven cities in south Salt Lake Valley.