Jennifer Vasquez can’t describe the smell without gagging. When she lived in her West Valley City home, it would come on unexpectedly and linger.
She thought it might be hot garbage. Then she figured some animal had died. Or maybe it was a sewage leak.
Whatever it was, it became so bad that Vasquez, 33, moved to Taylorsville last year, in part to escape it.
"I couldn’t stand it any longer,” she said.
After years of complaints about the strong stench, city officials launched a campaign last September urging residents to “smell something, say something."
And the 200 responses they’ve received, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open-records request, show it’s not just a mild annoyance. Thirty percent of respondents said the smell has caused them to consider moving, while more than half said it’s kept them from enjoying their yard, patio, driveway, pool or balcony.
Tiffani Scott, a 35-year-old West Valley City resident who filled out the form last week, described the smell as “pure sewage.” She said the only reason she’s staying in the area is to be close to family for child care reasons.
“If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would have moved to West Valley, because that smell is just horrible,” she said. “And, to be honest, when we have company over and it smells like this and they ask what the smell is, it’s quite embarrassing, too.”
Sam Johnson, a spokesman for West Valley City, said the municipality is pretty sure it knows the source of the smell: E.T. Technologies Inc., a waste-processing site adjacent to the Salt Lake Valley Landfill.
The company’s Utah manager did not return a request for comment. But its website says the organization is dedicated to reducing odors generated by its processes and has invested in equipment and chemicals to control the smell.
The city received a spike in responses to its form after FOX 13 reported on the smell at the beginning of August, with 133 of the 200 complaints filed in the past month.
But residents say they’ve been aware of the odor for much longer than that — most for the past two or three years and another as far back as 1994. The smell happens mostly in the summer months, they say, and is worse on hot and breezy days. It seems to be coming from the northwest.
Malinda Hoopiiaina, 37, spends $40 a month in candles to try to mask it — and even then, it sometimes permeates into her home near 3100 South and 4400 West. She used to sit outside and drink coffee every morning with her husband; now, the two don’t bother.
“It creeps up on you and takes you by surprise,” she said. “It smells literally like an outhouse on a warm summer day.”
One resident sent in 10 responses to the survey. Another, five. Mark Persons put in four. He said the stink has been so bad that it’s woken him at night.
“It burns your nose, and you’ve got to shut your windows and go inside because it’s just so vile,” said Persons, 55. “I hope they’re doing something about it.”
Johnson said the city recognizes the impact the odor is having on its residents.
“For some people, depending on where they’re living or the factors of the wind coming in, it takes away some of their quality of life at night — especially when they’re just looking to relax after a hard day of working and be out there with their family,” he said.
The city has reached out to Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City leaders, Johnson added, because the treatment facility lies within their boundaries — not West Valley City’s. But there hasn’t been consensus on how to resolve the problem.
One survey respondent noted that he has “suffered” from the smell for three years and will “cuss it almost daily.” A woman said she “could actually taste it in my mouth” as she drove with her windows down. A man suggested his family members cover their noses when they go outside.
Jessica Berryman, 38, said she has buyer’s remorse. She purchased her West Valley City home in 2015. It was up on a hot market and had a number of bidders — and the stench wasn’t present when she checked out the property. Now, she stays inside often and hardly uses her swamp cooler, which just circulates the odor throughout her house.
“It is something I wish I would have known before I was moving into the area,” she said. “It’s a very strong feces odor, like you are next to a big farm.”
She hopes the city can find a resolution. She worries that if it doesn’t, she won’t be able to sell her home, like Vasquez did in making her getaway.