A rental trailer truck that could contain toxic waste was found abandoned in West Valley City Saturday morning. Officials say it is an example of a dangerous problem that is on the increase.

County health and law officials impounded the truck, sealed several black barrels found in the back and transported it to a "safe site," according to Lt. Dennis Steadman of the Salt Lake County Hazardous Materials Response Team.The truck's owners discovered it at approximately 50th South and 32nd West, opened one of the barrels and reported they contained a liquid substance with a foul stench. Steadman said they believe the barrels contain hazardous waste, but he said there were too many possibilities to speculate exactly what type of chemicals are in the barrels.

"We treat it as potentially the worst-case scenario. We're treating it as toxic waste," said Steadman. County health officials will take samples from the barrels Monday and determine what kind of methods will be required to dispose of the substance.

Officials said the truck was rented in July and never returned. The truck has traveled 4,000 miles since then, causing investigators concern because they don't know from where the barrels originated.

"With 4,000 miles on the truck, it could have come from anywhere," Steadman said.

Although it is still unclear whether the trailer truck found Saturday contains toxic waste, Steadman said the problem of dumping or improperly disposing of toxic waste is becoming widespread in Utah. "You'd be surprised at the number of similar incidents we deal with."

There are many instances, he said, where toxic chemicals are simply dumped into vacant lots and fields, causing severe health and environmental dangers. The "midnight dumpers" dump the waste to save the money it would cost them to have it properly disposed of.

"They're not concerned with the environment," explained Steadman. "They'd rather save the bucks."

Such dumpings can easily get into local water supplies and cause serious illness and death, he said. "The potential is unlimited. It's almost terrifying."

But those who dispose of the toxic waste legally also pose a threat to Utah, said Steadman. Many out-of-state chemical businesses transport their waste to Utah because it is cheaper to dispose of it here. "These materials are crossing border lines at all points."

Businesses in California, for example, can hire someone to load and transport their toxic waste to Utah for disposal, and actually save money than if they just disposed of it in California, Steadman said. "We're their toxic waste dump, basically."

Steadman said Utah needs tougher legislation that would increase the fines for dumping toxic chemicals and require stricter control and safer containers. Concerning the "horrifying problem" of illegal dumping, Steadman said he encourages the public to report any suspicious dumpings or substances.

"We probably only hear about 5 percent of the cases," he said.