By Ed Runyan
Patriot Water Treatment, which began operating a commercial wastewater treatment plant on Sferra Drive in 2011, was identified as the source of terrible odors experienced by residents and businesses throughout the north side of the city in recent weeks.
Ed Haller, director of the city’s water pollution control department, said perhaps it’s for the best that the odor problem occurred when it did.
His department has been waging a battle with the company for a year over chemical compounds Patriot has been sending into the sewers, Haller said.
“We can’t continue to allow them to do just anything they want that could be detrimental to greater Warren,” Haller said.
Patriot, located on the north end of town, treats wastewater it receives from customers. At the end of the process, the water goes into the sewers and travels to the wastewater treatment plant on the south end of town for treatment with other wastewater. Eventually, the water flows into the Mahoning River.
Patriot began as a treatment facility for wastewater produced by the gas and oil industry, an alternative to injection wells.
Receiving fracking wastewater has challenges of its own, such as treating barium and salt, Haller said.
But Patriot also has permission to accept wastewater from other sources besides the gas and oil industry. Last year, the city experienced problems with Patriot’s discharging high levels of zinc from wastewater, Haller said.
Then in May, Water Pollution Control started noticing the presence of dimethyl disulfide in the water, Haller said.
According to the Reactor Resources website, dimethyl disulfide is used in the sulfiding process, which removes sulfur and nitrogen from motor fuels. It’s also used as a pesticide and a food additive in cheese, meats, soups, savory flavors and fruit flavors, according to the www.chemicalbook.com website.
Its odor has been described as pungent garlic, propane, decaying fish, or decomposing materials, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Andy Blockson, president of Patriot Water, said the key for him is that dimethyl disulfide is not regulated by the EPA, so his company is not required to test for it. As a result, he would not know whether the chemical is in any of the loads of waste his company received. “It’s not a pollutant of concern,” he said.
If Patriot discharged the compound, “we wouldn’t know because we don’t test for it,” he said.
Haller said testing indicated that Patriot did discharge the chemical, and Blockson agrees that is true. But he also believes it has come from other sources because it’s a common chemical and “it’s everywhere.”
Haller said one of the reasons the chemical went into Warren’s treatment system is because Patriot was accepting wastewater from a Dayton-area landfill.
Blockson said it might have come from that customer, but it’s an unregulated compound, so it might have come from multiple customers. “It’s not illegal to be in the waste stream,” he said.
When the public started complaining about smells, Water Pollution Control investigated its industrial facilities.
The problem appeared to be focused in the Warren Industrial Park where Patriot is located because other industries in the park reported the smell, Haller said.
All of those and other industries tested showed very low or nondetectable amounts of the chemical, Haller said.
On June 9, the city had its highest reading so far for the chemical, Haller said.
Throughout last week, the Ohio EPA conducted meetings in Warren that included the Mahoning Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency, Warren Water Pollution Control, Patriot and Ohio Department of Health, Haller said.
Sometime late last week, Patriot shut down its discharge of water into the city’s sewers in the presence of Water Pollution Control officials except for wastewater from toilets and sinks. “Since they shut down, it’s been perfect,” Haller said of readings of dimethyl disulfide.
Blockson said Patriot has shut off any discharges into the sewer system and is not receiving any liquid wastes until the chemical is completely gone from Patriot Water.
“Are we doing what we can to eliminate that smell? Yes. Are we going to fix it? Absolutely,” Blockson said.
The Mahoning Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency issued the city a notice of violation last week for odors emitted by the city sewer system for the first three months of the year. Patriot told Warren Water Pollution Control in the presence of the Ohio EPA that it would provide data on all of the customers and loads it received since December, Haller said.
Blockson agreed, saying it will do this even though it’s not required by law.