State officials began cleaning up a contaminated Moab neighborhood this past week - action residents say should have taken place long ago.

"They have known about this for 21/2 years, but are just now doing something," said Moab resident Dwayne Shepardson. Shepardson's family and three other families in the neighborhood evacuated their homes last February because of dangerous gas fumes leaking from a nearby underground gasoline tank."This has been the slowest moving project I've ever seen," said Art Ross, Shepardson's neighbor. He said work to free the houses of the gas fumes has been advancing at "a snail's pace."

The residents say they feel they were all living in a dangerous situation and suffered health problems - nausea, lack of appetite, headaches and fevers. At the advice of a University of Utah toxicologist, the residents moved out of their homes.

"The toxicologist came down and told us we shouldn't stay here another night because of the danger," said Ross. State officials later sent a letter offering the same advice - advice residents say should have been given them months earlier.

Residents contend the state could and should have repaired the leak as far back as 1985, before the gas traveled to their property and contaminated their homes. Most of them, however, say they are pleased to at least see efforts on the project begin.

Utah Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste officials invited residents in the area Thursday to witness their cleanup techniques.

"The site is normally off-limits," said Wendy Olson, community relations coordinator for the bureau. "But we have invited local people to show them exactly how and what is being done."

Olson said the groundwater mixed with the gasoline spills is being pumped from the ground and the evacuated homes in the area are being ventilated. "It's a temporary solution and not a long-term one," she said.

Once the work is completed, Olson said residents may be allowed to return to their homes. But while all are anxious to return, no one believes it will be soon and residents are very cautious.

LorRaine Guymon said she wants to see written reports and analysis before she and her family will return to their home.

"They'll have to prove it's safe and then we'll live there," she said. "We've already been on the other route where we've lived there thinking it was safe when it really wasn't."

Three of the families currently live in trailer homes and one is renting another house. Even though the state has recently begun paying for the families' expenses of additional housing and utilities, residents say it is difficult to live in a temporary set-up with their homes so close, yet unfit to live in.

"We bought our home to live through our retirement," said Jean Gay. She said it is difficult for an older couple like her and her husband to pick up and move, but she also wants to return to a safe home.

Even though officials were slow to inform them they were living in an unsafe environment, Guymon said she has confidence in state officials and believes they would not permit them to return if it was not safe.

"It's just a matter of time now until it's safe," she said. But Shepardson said he cannot trust the state officials because he believes they deliberately kept putting off the project until most of the gasoline had gone, seeping into a nearby river.

Officials have traced the underground leak to two Moab gasoline stations across the street from each other. Tank leaks have spread gasoline over an estimated 12 acres, sending fumes through houses and buildings in the area.