Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Xylene detected by employees

Xylene and other airborne chemicals
can be harmful to human health.
Located in the southwest corner of Midland County sits the City of Odessa’s Bob Derrington Water Reclamation Plant; almost invisible to anyone driving south on East Loop 338.

It was here that alert employees discovered the presence of a chemical waste that was dumped into the city’s sewers from a manhole cover, according to an Ector County lawsuit.
Ben Jordan, assistant director of utilities for Odessa, said the discovery occurred Jan. 8 and almost by accident.

With employees doing maintenance at the “top of the plant,” or the area where raw sewage initially comes in, Jordan said the employees noticed a difference in the way the air smelled.

Explaining that after working near sewage for many years, Jordan said the employees can usually detect something different in the water by the way it smells.

“It was sweet, almost like Pine-Sol,” Jordan said. “We just knew it was a different smell.”

Taking a sample, they sent a sample off to be tested and did a second sample on Jan. 30. However, because the sample was not the same quality as the Jan. 8 samples, Jordan said they did not send it in for testing.

“I make sure to do it the same way; that way our tests have integrity,” he said, adding a third sample was sent on Feb. 10.

When the results came back, it showed that there were high levels of xylene in the water.

Xylene, a liquid hydrocarbon obtained by distilling wood, coal tar, or petroleum, and used in fuels and solvents, and in chemical synthesis, is also highly flammable and causes irritation of the skin and birth defects if ingested.

Lab reports done by Ana-Lab Corporation indicate the test in January reported that the water had 17.04 micrograms per liter of xylene in the water.

In a separate test conducted in February, water from the plant again showed elevated levels of xylene, this time at 14.14 micrograms per liter.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website states that federal law allows no more than 10 microgram per liter of xylene in the city’s sewer system.

But the xylene also did more than that. Jordan said it killed all the microorganisms that are used to treat the sewer water.

As the raw sewage comes in, various types of microorganisms start eating at the sewage, and each other, eventually dropping all the fecal matter out of the water as it goes through the process, Jordan said.

Next, chlorine is poured into the water and then taken out with sulfur dioxide because any runoff from the plant goes into the Monahans Draw, which is about a mile south of the plant, Jordan said.

“The state says you can’t have water with chlorine go back out,” Jordan said.

But once the xylene hit the plant, Jordan said it started to kill off the microorganisms, which started to slow down how fast the plant could process water.

Sitting in the tanks halfway through the process is a large amount of dried sludge, which sits on top of the pools, and forces the running water to go under it. But at the end of the process, Jordan pours out some water which is clear.

Because of state standards, Jordan said the water is tested every day, with the employees walking around the plant during shifts to make sure everything is flowing smoothly.

The xylene that came into the plant was the result of 90 barrels of the waste poured into the sewer system by employees with Roywell Services Inc., a lawsuit filed by Ector County alleges.

When Odessa and Ector County law enforcement officials did their investigation, an unnamed employee with the company said he saw two employees use a pump to drain the contents of a lined pit —identified as a mixture of acid, chemicals and water — from the property and into a manhole, the lawsuit stated.

The mixture that was reportedly dumped into a manhole cover at the property located at 2425 West Interstate 20 was “hot,” and was dissolving caliche rock and dirt.

Additional interviews with employees stated that they dumped about 90 barrels of the waste into the sewer system and lifted the manhole cover with company-owned equipment at the direction of one of their managers, the lawsuit stated.

Source: OA Online. The article has been edited for length.

Worried about airborne chemicals in your workplace? The "sweet" smell of xylene or sharp odors of chemicals may be harmful to human health. But even if there is no smell, airborne chemicals may be present. Indoor air can be treated with one of Electrocorp's air cleaners for industrial or commercial settings. The air cleaners for odor control are highly versatile, easy to use and effective and Electrocorp also offers air cleaners for waste water treatment plants.  

Contact Electrocorp for more information.

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