Veolia will be leaving Richmond
on December 7, 2011
After nine years of service, Veolia will began the process of terminating its 10-year contract with Richmond, which will start the search for a viable alternative for its wastewater management plan.
Residents in Richmond have voiced concerns about odor issues in relation to the plant, and Veolia cited a need for capital investment to improve the condition of the plant as a reason not to continue its contract.
“It looks like we are negotiating a divorce,” Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said. “Which is not the best analogy because you can live single but you can’t live without a wastewater system.”
Veolia will stay with Richmond until services are transferred, so the city does not go without wastewater treatment and can move services seamlessly.
A consultant group, Carollo Engineering, will look to find a viable solution — both financially and logistically — for Richmond, which may include rerouting the waste to EBMUD, decommissioning the wastewater plant, or upgrading the plant.
Though the real solution will most likely be a hybrid of one or more of the alternatives, estimates for the cost to change wastewater treatment plans range as high as $150 million, which is more than the city’s annual budget.
“This is the kind of funding that I think the federal government should help us out with,” Ritterman said.
One of the hardest things that the consultant group will deal with is the extra flow of water that the stormwater system takes in during rainy months. Ritterman suggested that having the community or large companies like Chevron collect rainwater might be a viable solution.
Veolia has encountered a few problems in Richmond over the last nine years, but the most commonly reported is odor from hydrogen sulfide emissions, particularly over the last few years.
The odor is result of a bad “digester,” or more specifically, a faulty cover on one of the two digesters. It was an issue during contract negotiations in 2002, and some Point Richmond residents have been vocal about the odor for the past few years, some citing health issues as a direct result.
“People started getting sick about a year ago,” said Maureen Decombe, a Point Richmond resident. “It seeped into our house and would smell like the dog made a mess inside. It was really bad.”
Lower levels of exposure may result in eye irritation, headache, and fatigue, Excessive hydrogen sulfide can cause death, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
When Point Richmond residents began voicing their concerns about the odors, Veolia agreed to institute air monitors at three places around the plant – on the north end, the south end and near the Washington Elementary School.
The appropriate value of hydrogen sulfide exposure set by the Center for Disease Control is 20 parts hydrogen sulfide per one million parts of air. In the last month, both the north and south monitors have peaked above 20 parts per billion (.02 ppm) multiple times, but the monitor near Washington Elementary School has not risen above 20 ppb.
The proximity of Washington Elementary School – which is about 1,000 feet from the wastewater treatment plant – is one of the most pressing concerns. Since hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, it tends to sink closer to the ground, and close to where children are playing and breathing heavily.
“All the data I have seen this whole time, I have never seen H2S rise to the level of causing a health impact,” said James Good, the executive vice president of Veolia Water. “Having said that, different people have different sensitivities. I am not trying to minimize the discomfort the odor has caused somebody.”
In previous City Council meetings, Veolia addressed the issues of staffing the plant on the weekends and evacuation plans, in the case of a hydrogen sulfide emergency.
When Veolia took over the wastewater treatment plant, it inherited a mess of problems, including water pollution issues, air quality concerns and an old plant with massive infrastructure problems.
“Before my time, it was rogue operation, being run into the ground by city employees,” Councilmember Tom Butts said.
The company spent $5 million on renovations last year to help curb some of the odor issues.
Since Veolia took over the plant in 2002, water pollution has dropped nearly 90 percent and the facility responds to nearly all the complaints, according to a study done by Veolia.
“Our people are just as frustrated,” Good said. “It’s a very old plant and frankly before we came on board, it was a very little maintenance or capital investment done.
“We have absorbed a huge loss,” he added. “Most companies would have walked away.”
But residents still aren’t happy with the rate of upgrades.
“It really gets you down when your house smells like poop,” Docombe said. “We love it in Richmond, but now we are on the fence about leaving.”
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