News Briefs: Spark from Saw Starts Treatment Plant Fire

In this week's water and wastewater news, a fire ignites at a Minnesota plant, East Lansing responds to worker lawsuit and Alabama utilities could lose tax exemption.
News Briefs: Spark from Saw Starts Treatment Plant Fire

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On late Tuesday, a small explosion at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota, quickly turned into a blaze so intense firefighters had to battle it from the exterior. The fire, which was limited to an older part of the facility being decommissioned, started when a contract employee cut into a scrubber.

“It was a pretty thick cloud of smoke rolling up from over there,” said employee Mike Moss to CBS Minnesota. “Pretty strong odor. We could smell it in here even though the wind was carrying it in that direction.”

According to a report in the Star Tribune, Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said the contractor shouldn’t have been cutting in an atmosphere of explosive vapors.

“Whatever it was was residual from when it was used as a scrubber,” Zaccard said. “Obviously, there was something there that emitted flammable vapors, though clearly, it wasn’t anticipated.”

The blaze was contained in about an hour, and one employee was treated for minor injuries. The plant remained online during the incident.

“We’ll probably examine the runoff, test the air around here as well just for a precaution,” Zaccard said to CBS Minnesota.

The 77-year-old facility is the largest in Minnesota with a 251 mgd capacity. About 350 employees and contractors work at the facility.

Source: Star Tribune, CBS Minnesota, TwinCities.com

East Lansing Admits Mistakes Were Made

The City of East Lansing, Michigan, has responded to a lawsuit filed by a group of wastewater treatment plant employees who say they were exposed to asbestos and mercury while working at the plant. In a statement, City Manager George Lahanas says the city “still believes it can do better” and has plans to hire outside experts to conduct a full review of plant safety.

“In running a WWTP, such as in the City of East Lansing, accidents of this nature do and will occur,” Lahanas said. “Unfortunately, some mistakes were made, but we are confident that we have learned from those mistakes and have made all necessary corrections.”

One former and eight current employees of the city’s wastewater treatment plant are suing the city. In addition to other complaints, the plaintiffs state they were not informed about a 2007 asbestos inspection at the plant.

“It appears that the survey may not have been properly shared with staff and the signage did not meet all MIOSHA expectations,” Lahanas said.

Source: Lansing State Journal

Alabama Proposal Would Eliminate Utility Tax Exemption

As part of plan to address a $700-million-plus budget deficit, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has proposed removing a tax exemption for city-operated water, gas and power utilities. Representatives for the utilities say the added expense would likely be passed on to customers.

“We have no choice as a public utility,” says Rodney Owens, assistant general manager of the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board, in an Anniston Star article.

The Public Utilities License Tax supports the state’s general fund and the Department of Mental Health. Currently, the state exempts some utilities, including countywide water systems and those operated by cities.

Source: Anniston Star



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