Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TOP STORY >> Sewer stink is too much in Shewood

Leader staff writer

A foul smell coming from Sherwood’s north wastewater treatment facility last weekend was so intense that some residents by Monday were threatening to file a class action suit or move away. Utility managers blame a hot spell and northerly wind for the stench that for several days kept folks inside with the windows down.

Longtime Indianhead Lake Estates residents who live within a mile of the treatment plant say that unpleasant smells wafting their way is something they’ve learned to live with and tolerate because they otherwise really like their peaceful neighborhood that borders woods and wetlands.

But what hit their nostrils last Friday and then worsened over the weekend was beyond anything any of them could remember – including some who have lived there for more than 30 years.

By Sunday, the odor had them so vexed that one of them called the police out of desperation. Then the police called the fire department.

“It was so bad, if you stood outside for 15 or 20 minutes, it stuck to the roof of your mouth, and then everything you ate or drank tasted like sewer,” said one resident, who says he had brushed his teeth 15 times in one day in an attempt to get the taste out of his mouth.

One man, who with his wife and two daughters has lived fairly contentedly on Lucy Lane for four years, said, “This has been three days you didn’t want to go outside, period. It has been horrible; it really takes your breath away.”

After celebrating the birthday of one of the girls on Sunday afternoon in Burns Park, “breathing fresh air,” they were overpowered by the smell upon the return home. Once back in the house, no one wanted to venture out to the car to retrieve anything, even the 6-year-old who had left birthday gifts in the car.

“It is pretty bad when you don’t even want to go get your presents,” her father said.

According to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Deputy Director Ryan Benefield, the city complied in a “timely manner” to the state-reporting requirement.

An investigation into what happened, if it could have been avoided and if any aspect of the plant’s permit was violated is ongoing, Benefield said.

Benefield did say that having aerators on to increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the plant’s sludge pond – the source of the odor – is the way to prevent and mediate such a problem, which he noted is “not an environmental or public health problem, but a nuisance odor problem.”

By Monday, increasing the oxygen in the pond had mitigated the odor. By evening, it still lingered in the air, but was not the stick-in-your-throat sort, and neighbors in the evening stood outside chatting about their olfactory ordeal.

City wastewater workers said that the pond had “gone septic” in last week’s warm weather and a northerly wind sent the odor toward nearby homes. They said that the aerators are usually cranked up when the weather warms, but this time they were caught a bit off guard. They seemed to say that foul smells are part of springtime for those living in proximity to a wastewater-treatment facility.

“This occurs about this time of year every year,” said Bill Miller, wastewater manager for Sherwood. “It turns over what’s on the bottom of the sludge pond. What is on the bottom comes to the top. If we get a southerly wind, it will go away.”

Miller said that the aerators are now on and enzymes have been added to correct the problem.