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City officials say Smith County Septic Co. to blame for blue-tinged waste
Feb 16, 2007 12:00 am
More details on the sewage spill at Bartons Creek emerged from the blue yesterday.
The company originally blamed for the spill, Nashville-based Blinker-Lite Portable Toilets, was not at fault, say Lebanon city officials. Instead, they blame the sewage spill on Smith County Septic Company.
According to Lebanon Waste Water Treatment Plant Director Billy Dranus, the spill occurred on Saturday afternoon when septic company driver Bill Lowe dumped sewage into a manhole on North Hartmann Drive near the plant. The manhole, covering a storm drain at the plant, led directly into Bartons Creek. A neighboring manhole normally used by dumping companies leads into the waste water plant.
Lowe confirmed that he pumped sewage at the Lebanon plant Saturday, but said he couldn't be sure that it was his truck that caused the spill. The driver said he called Lebanon city officials Tuesday morning after hearing media reports about the spill.
"I guess I put it down the wrong manhole," he said. "I didn't really know there was a difference between the two – I mean they're right next to each other, seven or eight feet apart.
"I knew there was a blue color in my tank on Saturday, so I figured I'd call and see if it was my truck that [caused the spill]."
A deep blue dye contained in the sewage spill was the telltale sign that something was wrong in Bartons Creek Monday night. Eyewitnesses called the Wilson County Emergency Management Agency as well as several media outlets and raised the alarm about the cloud of blue drifting down through the creek.
At first, Dranus and others thought the blue color came from detergents in sewage pumped from Blinker-Lite portable toilets.
Lowe said the color had a different origin.
According to the Smith County Septic Co. driver, Saturday's route included a stop at PFP LLC, a home air filter manufacturer in Gordonsville, Tenn. PFP uses a blue dye manufactured in Lebanon by ColorTech to print markings on the cardboard edging around the air filters it sells.
Documents filed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency by ColorTech say the ink is non-toxic, water-soluable and biodegradable. The documents, known as Materials Safety Data, are required by federal law to be filed with the government by chemical companies for each product they sell. MSDs then follow the product through its sale and usage to allow officials a better understanding of what they're dealing with in the case of an accident.
Lowe said his contact at PFP told him the dye entered the septic tank after workers at the Gordonsville company cleaned up in the bathroom after work. The driver said he was surprised by the color when we first emptied PFP's tank.
"When I stirred up the tank I said, 'Wow, that's kind of unusual,'" Lowe recalled. "The [MSD] said it was safe so I didn't have a problem hauling it."
Officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation arrived at the scene of the spill last night to take samples of the water and check the spill for toxins. Though the lab results are not yet available, TDEC officials said the new information about the dye's origin were comforting.
"Every indication is that it is not harmful," TDEC Environmental Specialist James Smith said. "When you look at the way the aquatic life is reacting to it, [the dye] seems to be OK."
TDEC dispatched a biologist from the state Wildlife Resources Agency to the Lebanon plant yesterday to check for fish kills or any other indication the spill was having a poisonous effect. Early reports indicated Bartons Creek aquatic life remain healthy.
Smith said he expected the dye would dilute into the water in the creek after a heavy rain. Though he said it was difficult to speculate without the lab results, Smith said that he did not expect any long term effects.
Lebanon Mayor Don Fox said he has directed the city public works department to leave warning signs up on the bridges over Bartons Creek at Hartmann Drive and Maple Hill Road. The signs, erected last night after news of the spill first broke, caution people to steer clear of Bartons Creek until the spill dissipates.
"I was one of the first people to hear about this," said Fox, who lives near Bartons Creek. "We knew pretty fast that it was a simple mistake that led to this."
The blue water in Bartons Creek was first reported around 4:30 p.m. Monday afternoon. Dranus speculated that a slow flow in Bartons Creek prevented anyone from noticing the odd coloration until days after the Saturday spill.
"The water level has been pretty low lately, so the creek's been moving pretty slowly [near the Hartmann Road plant]" Dranus said. "I guess no one noticed it."
In the wake of the spill, city officials say they have moved to prevent another spill from happening again. The manhole that empties into the storm drain has been sealed and Fox said new procedures for sewage dumping will be implemented at the waste water plant.
"There will be no more access for private haulers into that area," the mayor said. "From now on, trucks will have to come inside the main gates and be emptied there."
Before Saturday's spill, commercial trucks dumping sewage at the Lebanon waste water plant were often directed to the Hartmann Drive manhole, which lies inside the main fence of the plant, but outside the main treatment complex. City officials said the manhole was used for the sake of convenience – trucks could pull up and empty into the city sewage system without having to go through the locked gates at the plant.
The city charges commercial dumping companies $15 per load to drop off sewage at the plant, though there is some confusion as to whether that fee has been collected in recent years. Dranus said a new fee collection system was scheduled to go online on March 1. The new system requires trucks to log in and empty their loads under the supervision of Lebanon Public Works employees.
Fox said the changes would make for a safer and more reliable commercial dumping system. He said despite the hubbub surrounding the blue water this week, things could have been worse.
"I'm just glad it was a small carrier," he said. "If that had been the trucks from the speedway, just imagine what might have happened."
Staff Writer Evan McMorris-Santoro can be reached at 444.6832 ext. 16 or email@example.com