The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is monitoring what it calls a major spill by EPD guidelines at Hinesville/Fort Stewart’s wastewater treatment plant Oct. 22-23.
According to David Lyle, Georgia EPD program manager in Brunswick, after an estimated 3.94 million gallons of treated wastewater entered Taylors Creek, test samples from that day’s release showed higher-than-normal readings for “bio-chemical oxygen demand (five day),” which prompted the facility to immediately take new samples and investigate previous sample data.
“They’re investigating what happened with that sample,” said Lyle, who explained there was no actual spill but a “permit excursion,” which means the wastewater released exceeded allowable limits. “(OMI’s wastewater specialists) take five samples every day, which are held for 24 hours before being tested. Test results take five days. Results showed that day’s samples had two high readings, one at 20 parts per million and one at 28 ppm.”
Lyle said if the spill had involved raw sewage, he would have been “very worried.” He added that the 28 ppm reading exceeded the allowable weekly limit by more than 50 percent. By EPD standards, this made it a “major spill,” he said. He noted, however, that test sample results taken immediately after the first results came back at only 6 ppm — well within limits.
“It was an out-of-specification sample,” said OMI Director Greg Higgins, explaining that spikes like these happen frequently at water-treatment plants. “It could have been a contaminated sample. That one reading went high, and all our other parameters stayed low.”
Higgins explained that 3.94 million gallons is the normal amount of treated wastewater released by the Hinesville/Fort Stewart plant each day. He said the POD5 test essentially is an oxygen-level measurement. He said the lower the reading, the better the sample.
He said plant manager Sherry Cantor and the wastewater-treatment specialists reacted swiftly to the high sample and have been investigating and verifying their data. One test they have done includes running a blank or sterile sample. He said if that sample had come back with a “demand” or reading level of any size, it would indicate something was happening in the testing process.
“Safety and compliance are the two most important things with OMI,” he said. “We’re looking at what happened and what kind of glitch could have caused that one high reading. As soon as we found the high reading, Sherry notified the EPD and took another sample. Since then, we’ve been investigating our data.”
Higgins noted that the samples taken before Oct. 22-23 and those taken since that date all have been below the allowable limits. In her message to the EPD, Cantor said samples are tested for dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform, pH and temperature. Higgins said only the dissolved oxygen levels for that one day’s sample were above allowable limits.
“By now, that water has already gone downstream,” said Lyle, acknowledging the time required for test results to come back. “They are still investigating what might have happened, and we’re still monitoring things. Right now, I don’t have anything that would be a cause for concern about public safety. We’re not going to issue any kind of warning.”
Lyle pointed out that bacteria are in creeks and rivers anyway, and people always are encouraged to thoroughly clean and cook freshwater fish as a precaution.