Veolia discusses evacuation plans with the City Council
on November 23, 2011
The levels of hydrogen sulfide emitted from the Veolia wastewater treatment plant have been rising over the last few months, and if Tuesday’s City Council meeting was any evidence the plant’s neighbors have noticed.
The minimum levels for emissions that Veolia has recently exceeded were set conservatively, said Chad Davisson, the wastewater management officer for the city, implying that there is no reason for concern. But that didn’t dissuade the vehement group of residents that showed up to talk about Veolia.
City Council members discussed being bombarded with emails from angry, concerned or confused residents.
“There is a level of frustration building here, without simple solution,” Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said. “We are getting to a breaking point.”
“The community is asking for an evacuation plan when, and if, the H2S gets high,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said.
The city’s Fire Department has a hazardous materials response team that participates with the county to combine efforts for emergencies, and there are evacuation procedures in place, Davisson said.
In the case of an incident, the city will use a procedure called “reverse 9-1-1”, where the fire department will call residents to ask them to leave or put their windows up.
If Veolia developed its own evacuation plan, it could be dangerous to take the responsibility from the Fire Department, Davisson said.
Currently, Veolia has a computer monitoring the levels of hydrogen sulfide in the wind a short distance from the wastewater treatment plant. The company plans to install two more with one at a school.
“Will Veolia be monitoring this, even over the Thanksgiving holiday, and how will the Fire Department know when the levels have reached an emergency level?” Councilmember Tom Butt asked.
If the air quality monitoring equipment measures levels of hydrogen sulfide that exceeded 30 parts per billion continuously for an hour of more or 60 parts per billion for three minutes, an alert will go off.
The monitors send out text alerts to the on-call phone centers, which dial out directly to an operator who will contact the company. Veolia is required to respond within an hour.
This message has to jump from centers to operators to companies because no one is at the Veolia wastewater treatment plant on the weekends and at night.
“When I first found out that Veolia locks up and leaves, on the weekend, I was just flabbergasted,” Butt said. “With the number of the instances we have had over the past year, I am not just convinced that that works.”
He then cited numerous times over the last month that the levels of hydrogen sulfide spiked and said that the risks are too large to not have a person stationed at the plant constantly.
Aaron Winer, the district manager for Veolia, said that he would make a 24-hour live monitor happen and that it would be a priority.
“It’s a situation that our company has taken with the utmost level of seriousness,” Winer said.
Veolia’s contract with the city will be reevaluated at the Dec. 6 City Council meeting.
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