The Fire Chief Project: Are you what they smell?

Clean-water plant odors may be more significant than you think

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I used to live in a beautiful Lake Michigan community. Every summer they have an art fair on the sidewalk that follows the river and then bends to trace the lakefront.

One year when I visited that art fair a humid breeze was blowing from the south, from the direction of the wastewater treatment plant across the river. And the air? Well, let’s just say it didn’t smell like a rose garden.

Now, I have been around the clean-water industry for years, and I’ve toured treatment plants from Newark to San Diego. I’m probably less sensitive to odors than most people. But this one drove me away. I can only wonder what impression it made on other local residents and out-of-town visitors that day. It reflected poorly on the city and even more so on the treatment plant (assuming people knew that was the source).

I’ve also smelled this treatment plant while fishing on a concrete pier that juts a quarter-mile or so into the lake right next door. Odors from the plant weren’t an every day thing; a lot seemed to depend in weather conditions and wind direction. But still.

Odor control at treatment plants can be difficult and often it isn’t cheap. But odor, even now and then, can do a great deal of harm to the reputation of a plant and, more important, to the people who work there.

Suppose you work at that treatment plant and someone asks what you do for a living. You tell them, and where does their mind go? Very likely straight to that smell. And then they think clean-water operator must not be a very pleasant or interesting job.

Many plants built these days are designed with extensive odor controls. Some even promise, right from the design phase, that there will be no odors outside the fenceline. So, what about existing facilities?

Does your plant have odor issues? Even intermittent ones? I would argue it doesn’t matter if the neighbors don’t complain and are “used to it.” You still have a problem. And there are remedies. There are engineers and even odor-control specialists who can diagnose and solve such problems. There are all sorts of biological and chemical odor-control systems on the market.

If you want to improve your plant’s image in the community and increase the chance your team members will be seen for the professionals they are, you can take an important step by getting rid of odors. Doing so can help further the aims of The Fire Chief Project:
· Raise clean-water operators to the status of the fire chief.
· Make kids grow up wanting to be clean-water operators.


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