mollybh on Mon, 19 Jul 2004 03:46:49 +0200 (CEST)

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Buffalo News - A smelly nuisance

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

FOCUS: SEWER ODORS -A smelly nuisance 

As problems persist at the wastewater treatment plant on 
Squaw Island, downwind is a bad place to be


Buffalo's aging sewer plant has a digestion problem. A big problem. 
And a sour stomach in million-gallon sewage sludge digesters means a headache 
for those downwind of the city's wastewater treatment plant - the West Side, 
Black Rock and Riverside. There's no quick cure for an ailment that first hit 
the plant in January 2002, started giving off offensive odors last summer and 
winter, and won't be fully corrected until next spring at a cost of $4 million 
to $5 million. And despite the Buffalo Sewer Authority's spending $100,000 on 
deodorizers aimed at masking the smell, and insisting the worst of the odors 
are over, those downwind of the plant on Squaw Island say their noses tell 
them different. How bad and where it smells depends on which way the 
wind blows past the Niagara River plant. Most of the time, these odors settle 
like a foul blanket over the Black Rock business strip along Amherst and Grant 

"It's like sitting next to a kid who needs to have his diaper changed," said 
Caleb Basiliko, a boatwright who lives behind his shop at 414 Amherst St. 
"It's terrible, it's pungent," said Howard Bookmiller, who owns Howie's 
Appliances down the street. "A backed-up toilet doesn't smell that bad." 
"It's eye-watering, it's irritating," said Robert Niemiec, who runs the family-
owned lumberyard, Niemiec Builders Supply. Niemiec's has been across Grant 
Street from Buffalo State College since 1952. The smell also wafts over the 
campus. Adds North District Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.: 
"It's a cross between an outhouse and algae on a river. It makes you wish the 
skunks would come out." 
And it's not just a smelly problem for a slice of Buffalo. Tens of thousands 
of motorists catch whiffs of the offensive odors on the Niagara Thruway as 
they pass the sewage plant. Many of those turning up their noses are 
tourists now that the Thruway has rerouted Canadian and Niagara Falls traffic 
through the Buffalo toll road. Officials at the Buffalo Sewer Authority say 
they are doing all they can to solve the odor problems and that they have them 
under control. They call it a balancing act to keep rates reasonable while 
running a plant first built in 1938 and modernized several times since. 
But they were met by an angry group of residents, business owners and 
politicians at a community meeting in late April. 
"It's very unfortunate that this problem got to a point where the odors were 
very offensive and disturbed the quality of life for a short period of time," 
Anthony Hazzan, general manager of the sewer authority, said in an interview 
last week. "However, we have an action plan, a business plan, put together. 
We're addressing it, we've identified funds, the odor problem is dissipating 
and we're correcting it." Niemiec, who is also president of the Grant Amherst 
Business Association, disagrees. It still smells at his business, he said. 
"I'm running a lumberyard, I'm outside all day," he said. "People ask me all 
the time: you got a sewer problem?" Hazzan admits he may have been overly 
optimistic when he told residents in April that the smells would end in 
four to six weeks. But he said the smell is lessening and the end is near. 
Those downwind of the plant aren't so sure. And they say their lack of 
economic clout has prolonged the problem. "If this were Amherst, it would have 
been taken care of already," said Golombek, the Common Council member. "But 
it's the West Side, Black Rock and Riverside." State Sen. Byron Brown, a 
Buffalo Democrat, called the community meeting with Golombek after he went to 
a meeting at the Polish Cadets hall on Grant at Amherst and was nearly bowled 
over by the stench.  "People in the community are extremely unhappy about 
it," Brown said. "The odor over there is pretty foul. On a bad day, it's 
awful." Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, at 
Brown's request, conducted air-monitoring tests. Inspectors say the odors were 
not a health risk but were a nuisance affecting the quality of life. 
The plant, which treats 140 million gallons of sewage a day, was built for a 
Buffalo population of 600,000 and can handle up to 500 million gallons. It 
easily handles the added daily load from suburban communities, officials said. 
"This whole place is like a filter," Plant Superintendent Salvatore LoTempio 
said on a tour of the plant last week. "You have dirty water coming in, clean 
water coming out." LoTempio said the bad odors are from digesters used to 
break down sewage sludge, a byproduct. There are six of these concrete tanks, 
ranging in size from 1.4 million gallons to 1.9 million gallons. Bacteria in 
the sludge break it down, it is sent to a dewatering station, and then burned 
in the plant's three incinerators. The wooden roofs on two of these digesters 
started falling apart from age - some date to the 1930s, others from the 
1950s - and the tanks were taken out of service in January and March of 2002, 
LoTempio said. The plant's other four digesters started developing problems 
because of the increased loads. Sludge started foaming over the roofs, 
developing strong-smelling acids, and the resulting stench started 
drifting over the Niagara Thruway into the city. One of the digesters was 
foaming during last week's tour, and plant workers were using fire hoses to 
break down the foam and force it back in the tank. This digester had been 
rehabbed and plant workers were trying to get the bacteria working again. 
Despite the deodorizers, the digester was giving off a terrible odor that 
could be smelled in Black Rock. Hazzan, the sewer authority's general manager, 
said outside consultants URS discovered that besides the deteriorating roofs, 
the digesters' heat exchangers and pumps had to be reconditioned or replaced. 
That work is under way. Daniel R. David, the regional engineer for quality for 
the state DEC, said a lack of maintenance is probably to blame. 

"The city and the sewer authority are probably not in the best financial 
straits for a number of years and they've probably let maintenance go at 
times," he said. 
Three of six digesters are being repaired, and each one of those, once it is 
rehabbed, will have to go through the slow process of coming back on line. 
Each will probably smell until it does. 


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